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Conditions InDepth: Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by 6 months or more of chronic, exaggerated worry and tension that is unfounded or much more severe than the normal anxiety most people experience. People with this disorder usually expect the worst; they worry excessively about money, health, family, or work, even when there are no signs of trouble. They are unable to relax and often suffer from insomnia and an inability to concentrate. Many people with GAD also have physical symptoms, such as fatigue, trembling, muscle tension, headaches, irritability, or hot flashes.

Approximately 6.8 million American adults develop GAD during the course of a given year. It most often begins during childhood or adolescence, but can begin in adulthood, too. It affects women more often than men. Some research suggests that GAD may run in families, and it may also worsen during stressful times.

Research shows that GAD often coexists with depression , substance abuse , or other anxiety disorders. Other conditions associated with stress, such as irritable bowel syndrome , often accompany GAD. Tell your doctor if you have physical symptoms, such as insomnia or headaches, or emotional symptoms, such as constant feelings of worry and tension. This information will help your doctor determine if you are suffering from GAD.

What are the risk factors for generalized anxiety disorder?What are the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder?How is generalized anxiety disorder diagnosed?What are the treatments for generalized anxiety disorder?Are there screening tests for generalized anxiety disorder?How can I reduce my risk of generalized anxiety disorder?What questions should I ask my doctor?What is it like to live with generalized anxiety disorder?Where can I get more information about generalized anxiety disorder?

Revision Information

  • Anxiety disorders. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: Update March 2016. Accessed June 13, 2016.

  • Facts & statistics. Anxiety and Depression Association of America website. Available at: Accessed June 13, 2016.

  • Generalized anxiety disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated June 1, 2016. Accessed June 13, 2016.

  • Muller JE, Koen L, Stein DJ. Anxiety and medical disorders. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2005;7(4):245-251.

  • Stern T, Rosenbaum J, et al. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier; 2008.