What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (also known as GAD) is a medical condition that is characterized byAnxiety chronic, intrusive, and distressing thoughts of a worrying nature.  These thoughts are chronic (always present), intrusive (difficult to remove from conscious thinking) and distressing (upsetting due to what we are thinking about, and upsetting that we cannot remove them from our conscious thinking).  As a medical disease with a genetic basis causing a chemical imbalance in the brain, the symptoms of GAD can vary, but usually include three domains:  psychological or behavioral symptoms, physical or bodily complaints, and finally cognitive symptoms.  Examples include worrying, anxiety or panic attacks, insomnia, poor concentration, distractibility, and short-term memory loss.  GAD is often confused with ADHD due to the poor concentration seen in both disorders.

Let’s look at what someone exhibiting some of these symptoms might say:

Worry: “I never thought I was someone who worried a lot. Once I started thinking I’d feel wound up and unable to relax. Sometimes it might come and go. At other times it would be constant and might go on for days. I’d worry about family members, friends, the future, finances, and health issues.  I was bothered by things that didn’t seem to bother others. I’d continue to think about these things and just couldn’t let go of these thoughts.  I was always imagining things were worse than they really were.  It’s like I would make up problems when they didn’t exist.  I had no focus at work; my mind would wander, developing different storylines for different interactions that I’d had or that might take place.”

Insomnia: “I went to bed and couldn’t turn off my brain.  It was as if nighttime was the right time for all the day’s events to process.  I was so keyed up that I had trouble falling asleep at night This kept me up for hours until I finally fell asleep out of exhaustion.  If I did get to sleep it was restless. There were times I’d wake up in the middle of the night and, if I started thinking, then I was wired for an hour or so, just thinking about problems, working different scenarios through in my mind.

Concentration:  During the day, I had trouble concentrating, even reading the newspaper or a novel. I began to skim, looking at pictures and captions.  Conversations and even television, were  all blurs as I became distracted with my own thoughts.

Anxiety: “Sometimes I’d feel a little lightheaded. My heart might race or pound, which just increased my worrying. When I got a stomach ache, I’d think it was an ulcer.  I was physically distressed, becoming physically ill when thinking about everything.  Additionally, I noticed that I felt angry and irritated with my family all the time.”

Panic attacks:  “These would come on with no warning, and usually when I was worried about something”.  When one started, I’d feel like I couldn’t breathe.  I could feel myself start to get very uneasy and I’d be anxious to leave wherever I was.  Sometimes, I’d feel nauseous and be noticeably sweating, too.”

While the symptoms above are not unusual for people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) to experience, these people may also be easily startled or frightened or have lingering medical issues such as fatigue, headaches, muscle tension and aches, irritability, nausea, lightheadedness, or the feeling of being out of breath.

We all worry from time to time, but people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) experience distress in undue proportion to their situation. They assume the worst and find it difficult to get through their day or even their job because of their worrisome thoughts.

GAD tends to be hereditary, but no one knows exactly why.   Stress and environmental factors also play a role but it is unclear to what extent.

GAD is diagnosed when a person worries excessively about a variety of everyday problems for at least six months. If an anxiety disorder is diagnosed, the next step is usually seeing a mental health professional. Make sure you talk to the doctor who prescribed your medication before you start or stop taking it. Ask what you should expect, both from a beneficial and from a tolerability perspective.  If you are experiencing side effects with a drug, communicate this to your doctor.  It is possible for some side effects to be eliminated by adjusting the dose of the medication and/or adjusting the time when it’s taken.*

The staff at the Institute for Advanced Medical Research can provide a free consultation to see if you might have GAD.  They can also talk with you about whether you might qualify to enroll in a research study.  Call them today at 770-817-9200!

*http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad/index.shtml