Everyone deals with worry or anxiety at some point in life, but for people who suffer from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), worry and anxiety begin to take control of their lives. Even small or unimportant activities or issues evoke severe anxiety.
How can you know if the anxiety you’re feeling is normal or if you’re among the five percent of people who suffer from generalized anxiety disorder? What treatment options do you have if you are diagnosed with GAD?
Although the cause of GAD is unknown, it is twice as likely to afflict women as men. Recent studies suggest the source may be genetic.
A visit to your doctor is the only effective way to diagnose generalized anxiety disorder. Your doctor will ask questions about your medical history, medications, and symptoms, as well as performing a physical examination, to rule out another condition that may be causing your worry and anxiety. Hyperthyroidism, medications containing amphetamines (such as Ritalin, cocaine, or simply too much caffeine can mimic the symptoms of GAD.
Once your doctor rules out an alternate cause, three criteria determine whether your anxiety qualifies you for the diagnosis of GAD: the duration of your anxiety, the severity of your anxiety, and your physical symptoms. Those with GAD experience consistent, daily feelings of worry and anxiety over a period of six months or more. Their anxiety and physical symptoms interfere with their ability to perform the normal tasks of life. Physical symptoms include difficulty concentrating, feeling tired, headaches, muscle aches, difficulty swallowing, shaking, sweating, hot flashes, queasiness, light-headedness, shortness of breath, trouble sleeping, and the need to frequently use the bathroom.
Therapy and medication are used to treat generalized anxiety disorder.
Relaxation therapy helps you learn to relax through imagining calming situations. The other useful option, cognitive-behavioral therapy, teaches you to re-direct your mind away from stressful thoughts and on to more positive ones.
Because everyone reacts differently to medication, finding the one that best treats your GAD may be a trial-and-error process. Be sure to tell your doctor about any side effects you experience and about how the medication he or she prescribes is working. Brief descriptions of the medications commonly used to treat GAD follow.
Buspirone is the mildest option and is best for people with less severe cases of GAD. It’s non-addictive and takes affect within two to three weeks.
Benzodiazepines are the traditional medicines used to treat GAD. Examples include Valium and Xanax. The drawbacks of benzodiazepines are significant however. Your body may adapt to the medicine, making it necessary for your doctor to keep increasing your dosage. Moreover, benzodiazepines are addictive. If you stop taking them suddenly, you may experience withdrawal symptoms or even seizures.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Prozac and Zoloft, are most often used to treat generalized anxiety disorder in children or teenagers. They can take anywhere from several weeks to several months to work and occasionally result in restlessness and sleeplessness. These side effects should ease the longer you use the medication.
Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)for example, Effexor often administered to people who suffer from another anxiety or panic disorder or from depression. Like SSRIs, they can take months to work optimally and are accompanied by the side effects of restlessness and sleeplessness, which should diminish over time.
Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) create the same side effects as SSRIs and SNRIs, but may show results quicker. Brands include Elavil and Pamelor.