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Generalised anxiety disorder

What is generalised anxiety disorder?

A person with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) finds it hard to control their worries, fears or sense of unease. This long-term condition with a feeling of constant anxiety interferes with daily life.

Unlike similar conditions or phobias, where certain things or situations can cause anxiety, it may not be clear why a person with GAD feels anxious.

Symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder

Although generalised anxiety disorder is a mental health condition affecting thinking and behaviour, it can also cause physical symptoms.

Different people may experience different symptoms.

Psychological symptoms may include:

  • Restlessness
  • Feeling on edge all the time
  • Dreading some things
  • Worrying about being late or missing appointments
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Being irritable, frustrated
  • Not wanting to see friends or family members
  • Work problems, more sick days
  • Stress
  • Low self-esteem.

The support group Anxiety UK says a person with GAD may even worry about worrying itself.

Physical symptoms may include:

Without treatment, GAD may lead to other problems, such as depression.

Causes of generalised anxiety disorder

It isn't known what causes GAD. Some experts believe problems during childhood may play a part. Other theories involve inherited genes, brain chemistry or past stressful or traumatic events.

Seeking medical advice about generalised anxiety disorder

Always seek medical advice about anxiety if daily life is affected and the anxiety causes distress.

How is generalised anxiety disorder diagnosed?

A doctor will begin to diagnose generalised anxiety disorder based on the person's symptoms and asking about how they feel, and about worries and emotions - and how anxiety affects home life, work life and social life.

Blood tests and a physical examination may be done to check for physical health conditions that may be causing the symptoms - such as thyroid problems or being low in vitamin B12, folate or iron.

Concerns about GAD may be higher if the person also has sleep problems or abuses alcohol.

It can be difficult to diagnose GAD because the symptoms are shared with other conditions and phobias.

A referral to a mental health professional may be made to confirm the diagnosis.

GAD may be diagnosed if:

  • The worrying has a significant impact on home life, work and social life.
  • Worrying causes stress and is upsetting
  • There's an overall tendency to think the worst will happen - and the uncontrollable worrying is about many things rather than specific ones
  • The worry symptoms are experienced most of the time for at least 6 months.

Generalised anxiety disorder treatment

Once GAD is diagnosed, appropriate treatment options will be discussed.

  • This may begin with a self-help programme - which may be computer based or using a book.
  • Group therapy led by a specially trained therapist is another option.
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