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Generalized anxiety disorder

Anxiety can be scary, but your care team at UW Medicine will find the right treatment to help you feel better.

Generalized anxiety disorder

Anxiety can be scary, but your care team at UW Medicine will find the right treatment to help you feel better.

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    Key points about generalized anxiety disorder

    • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a condition where you worry constantly about everyday issues and situations.
    • Healthcare providers diagnose GAD when your worrying happens on most days and for at least 6 months.
    • You may also feel restlessness, extreme tiredness (fatigue), trouble focusing, grouchiness, increased muscle tension, and trouble sleeping.
    • Treatment may include medicine, counseling, relaxation methods, and lifestyle changes.
    • If you have GAD, you may also have another mental health condition such as depression. 

    What is generalized anxiety disorder?

    If you tend to worry a lot, even when there’s no reason, you may have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). GAD means that you are worrying constantly and can’t control it. Healthcare providers diagnose GAD when your worrying happens on most days and for at least 6 months. GAD is one of the most common mental disorders in the U.S.

    Worrying may be something you are so used to. You may think it’s just how you are. Common worries include your health, money, family, or work. Everyone worries about these things once in a while. But if you always expect the worst, it can get in the way of living a normal life. 

    GAD begins slowly, often in childhood or the teen years. But it can begin in adulthood, too. It is more common in women. It often runs in families.

    If you have GAD, you may also have another mental health condition such as depression.   

    Take an anxiety test and learn the best next steps.

    What are the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder?

    If you have GAD, you likely know that your anxiety is more intense than the situation calls for. But still you can’t stop these unfounded concerns. Each person's symptoms may be a bit different. But these are the most common symptoms:

    • Trouble falling or staying asleep
    • Trembling
    • Twitching
    • Tense muscles
    • Headaches
    • Grouchiness
    • Sweating
    • Hot flashes
    • Lightheadedness
    • Trouble breathing
    • Upset stomach (nausea)
    • Urinating often
    • Lump in the throat
    • Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
    • Trouble focusing
    • Being easily startled
    • Unable to relax

    The symptoms of GAD may seem like other mental health conditions. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

    When should I contact my doctor?

    Seek care immediately if:

    • You are thinking about suicide or have a plan to take your own life; in this instance, call 911 right away.
    • You are having trouble caring for yourself.
    • You are engaging in self-harm behaviors.

    Call your doctor if:

    • You are noticing anxiety is interfering with your daily life.
    • Your current treatment for anxiety is no longer working.
    • You are experiencing significant distress from anxiety.

    How to make an appointment

    At UW Medicine, your primary care doctor will team up with mental health specialists and other experts to make sure you get the care you need to feel better. Your primary care doctor will remain the hub of your care — making any referrals you need, prescribing medications and coordinating care with your mental health provider.

    If you choose “BOOK PRIMARY CARE ONLINE,” select “Family Medicine” or “Internal Medicine” to make an appointment with a primary care provider.

    Anxiety care at UW Medicine

    If you think you may have generalized anxiety disorder and want to get care, you can start by talking with your primary care provider.

    During your first appointment, your doctor will get a comprehensive history of your experience with anxiety. This includes your symptoms, both past and present, as well as how your anxiety symptoms are impacting your daily life and what context your symptoms occur in. Your doctor will also learn more about your family history and ask what conditions in your current life may be contributing to your symptoms.

    Then, your doctor will work with you to figure out what kind of treatment will be most helpful. There are many types of treatment available for anxiety, including psychotherapy and medications. Your doctor can also connect you to community resources, self-help tools, apps and online therapy programs, and will help you learn how to modify your lifestyle in ways that promote self-care, such as making sure you get enough sleep and exercise and are eating nutritious food. As you go through treatment, your doctor will continue to assess your progress and make adjustments to your care as needed.

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    What causes generalized anxiety disorder?

    GAD can develop when you can’t cope well with your internal stress. It also runs in families. But it’s not understood why some people get it and others don’t. Experts have shown that the areas of the brain that control fear and anxiety are affected.

    Sometimes the symptoms of GAD can happen as a side effect of a medicine or of substance abuse. It can also be linked to health conditions (such as hyperthyroidism) that increase hormones. This can make the body response more excitable. GAD can be triggered by family or environmental stress. Long-term (chronic) illness and disease can also trigger GAD.

    How is generalized anxiety disorder diagnosed?

    Your healthcare provider or mental health provider diagnoses GAD. They can help figure out if your symptoms are linked to another problem. The symptoms happen on most days and last 6 months or longer.

    How is generalized anxiety disorder treated?

    Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is. Treatment may include:

    • Medicine
    • Counseling (cognitive behavioral therapy, or psychotherapy)
    • Relaxation methods
    • Working with a therapist to boost coping skills
    • Making lifestyle changes to reduce stress and stay away from stimulating substances. Also seek help with quitting smoking, or drug or alcohol use.
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