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Generalized Anxiety Disorder 101

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Generalized Anxiety Disorder 101 

Generalized anxiety disorder: An introduction 

anxiety disordersGeneralized anxiety disorder is usually manifested with such symptoms as apprehensive worry and physical symptoms such as restlessness, fatigue, problems with concentration, insomnia, muscle tension and irritability.  Generalized anxiety disorder may be distinguished from other anxiety disorders in various ways including its chronicity and comprehensive quality. Many individuals have had symptoms of generalized anxiety for a significant period of time, and usually have worries about a variety of events, rather than worries confined to specific stimuli or issues like most other anxiety disorders.  With panic disorder for example, the worry is usually focused on concerns about panic attacks, and with social phobias, the worries usually relate to concern about being embarrassed publicly. When an individual has obsessive-compulsive disorder, worries are usually focused on contamination or the fear of consequences if rituals are not performed in a certain way.  In hypochondriasis, worries are focused on potential illness rather then having the relatively constant level of uncomfortable anxiety experienced by individuals with generalized anxiety disorder


Generalized anxiety disorder: Prevalence and life course 

Recent studies on the rates of occurrence of generalized anxiety disorder indicate that the lifetime prevalence varies between 5.8% and 9%, with a greater risk to women.  The female to male ratio is approximately 2.5:1, with a somewhat greater rate of occurrence among young adults and blacks.  Many individuals state that generalized anxiety disorder comes on quite gradually and that they have been anxious since childhood.  Some studies have found that the average duration of this problem prior to receiving treatment is approximately 25 years.  Because of its high-level of chronicity and tendency to be self-reinforcing, along with not being as responsive as some other anxiety disorders to treatment, some clinicians and researchers believe that generalized anxiety disorder may be a lifelong illness similar to hypertension and diabetes. 

Genetic and biological factors: 

While some studies have found that generalized anxiety disorder may have a moderate level of heritability (about 30%), other studies have suggested that the genetic transmission is probably not quite that high.  Some clinicians and researchers have found that generalized anxiety disorder is associated with other traits such as nervousness, depression, low frustration tolerance and inhibition. 

Generalized anxiety disorder: Coexisting conditions and diagnosis

Most individuals with generalized anxiety disorder present with a variety of other diagnosis, including social and specific phobia, major depression, irritable bowel syndrome, and personality disorders.  Ninety percent of individuals who develop generalized anxiety disorder in their lifetimes also have another psychiatric condition, with 42% qualifying for diagnosis of major depression or dysthymia. 

In summary, the nature of generalized anxiety disorder is that individuals worry about a number of things rather than in very specific circumstances. They seem to have a relatively constant high level of anxiety at almost any given time.  Generalized anxiety disorder can be well differentiated from phobias in which patients fear specific, well-defined stimulus circumstances. 

Some information from Treatment Plans and Interventions for Depression and Anxiety Disorders by Robert L. Leahy and Stephen J. Holland 

Web page and additional information by Paul Susic Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist

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