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Generalized anxiety disorder
Other Resources UpToDate PubMed

Generalized anxiety disorder

Contributors: Shea A. Nagle MPH, Michael W. Winter MD, Richard L. Barbano MD, PhD
Other Resources UpToDate PubMed


Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by excessive and persistent worrying about many things in daily life to a degree that it impacts daily function. It typically presents as anxiety that is difficult to control and causes significant distress or impairment. Patients often present with complaints of apprehensiveness, irritability, muscle tension, sleeplessness, and fatigue.

The reported estimated prevalence of GAD is 0.9% among adolescents and 2.9% among adults. Approximately one-third of the risk for developing GAD is attributable to genetic predisposition. It is common to have first-degree relatives with a number of anxiety and mood disorders. GAD is more commonly diagnosed among women than men. Patients often begin experiencing increasing worry in their youth and develop more severe and persistent symptoms later in life, often in their 20s and 30s.

GAD is distinguished from other anxiety disorders by longstanding, general worry that spans across multiple aspects of life and the lack of a specific trigger or focused, singular concern. People with GAD may also present with neuroticism and harm-avoidance behaviors. Individuals may exhibit features of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) like counting, checking, and intrusive thoughts. But unlike OCD, these features in GAD are not time consuming or ritualized, and they tend to revolve around avoiding adverse outcomes in day-to-day activities rather than focusing on intrinsic fears.

GAD may co-occur with other disorders such as major depression, panic disorder, social phobia, and specific phobias. Patients with this disorder may have an increased risk of various general medical conditions.

Related topic: Drug-induced anxiety


F41.1 – Generalized anxiety disorder

21897009 – Generalized anxiety disorder

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Last Reviewed:11/03/2019
Last Updated:09/17/2020
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Patient Information for Generalized anxiety disorder
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Contributors: Medical staff writer


Generalized anxiety disorder refers to a condition of excessive and persistent worrying and distress that seems to be beyond your control that lasts for 6 months or more. Heightened anxiety may impair daily functioning and may cause mental and physical symptoms.

Who’s At Risk

Adults, children, and adolescents may show signs of excessive anxiety over a long period of time. Sometimes anxiety is accompanied by other mental health conditions, such as panic disorder, depression, phobias, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Generalized anxiety disorder may be associated with drug or alcohol abuse. It may also be associated with sexual and physical abuse.

Signs & Symptoms

Generalized anxiety disorder presents as excessive and persistent anxiety, dread, and/or worry with edginess, irritability, restlessness, and an unreasonable fear that something bad is about to happen. Physical symptoms include nausea, vomiting, headache, muscle tension, sweating, shaking, and stomach pain.

Self-Care Guidelines

The patient with generalized anxiety disorder will need to fully participate in a treatment plan with techniques for dealing with daily challenges. It may help to reduce intake of caffeine and increase physical exercise.

When to Seek Medical Care

When you suspect that worry, fear, and anxiety have become paralyzing and are affecting your daily functioning, contact your health care provider to begin assessment and treatment.


Your health care provider may recommend behavioral therapy, medication, or both.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is short-term, goal-oriented counseling with training to learn new ways to respond to anxiety triggers.

If medication is prescribed, the type used will depend on other medical or emotional conditions being managed, weighing the benefits against possible side effects such as drowsiness or sleep disturbances.

Over a period of time, treatments may be adjusted to find which therapies work best for you.
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Generalized anxiety disorder
A medical illustration showing key findings of Generalized anxiety disorder : Abdominal pain, Back pain, Diarrhea, Headache, Nausea/vomiting, Anxiety, Emotional stress or trauma, Insomnia, Heart palpitations
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