Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Adults


ICD-10 Code F41.1

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is part of a cluster of diagnoses called the anxiety disorders.  Anxiety disorders are a group of psychiatric conditions that include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Agoraphobia
  • Specific phobia
  • Separation anxiety disorder

These disorders are characterized primarily by the experience of excessive fear and anxiety.  People with generalized anxiety disorder spend a lot of time worrying about a lot of different things.  People with social anxiety disorder feel very anxious around other people because they are afraid of embarrassing themselves or being disliked.  People with panic disorder have sudden rushes of intense fear or discomfort called panic attacks.  They often worry about having another panic attack and might avoid certain situations that might trigger a panic attack.  People with agoraphobia are afraid of going into certain situations because they are afraid it might be difficult to escape or because they might experience panic-like or other embarrassing symptoms.  Commonly avoided situations are using public transportation, being in open spaces like parking lots, being in enclosed places like movie theaters, or being in a crowd.  People with a specific phobia are afraid of a certain object or situation, such as flying, heights, animals, or seeing blood.  People with separation anxiety disorder are afraid of being away from a certain person, usually because they are afraid that something bad might happen to them or the other person if they are separated.

The anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive fear and anxiety, along with behavioral disturbances, like avoiding certain places, people, or situations.  The anxiety disorders differ from each other in the target or focus of the fear.  In some anxiety disorders, like specific phobia, the person is only excessively fearful of a very specific object or situation.  In other anxiety disorders, like GAD, the person may feel anxious a great deal of the time or about a lot of different things.

What is generalized anxiety disorder?

GAD is a relatively common psychiatric disorder that affects approximately 2-5% of adults.  GAD is characterized primarily by worry that is excessive (out of proportion to the actual threat) and uncontrollable (unwanted or hard to stop). 

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Understanding Generalized Anxiety Disorder

GAD severity can range from mild to very impairing.  In severe cases, GAD can lead to serious problems at work or school, and can cause major problems in relationships.  Many people with GAD also have other psychiatric conditions, most commonly depression and other anxiety disorders.

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How is generalized anxiety disorder treated?

GAD is treatable.  Published treatment guidelines for GAD include those from the Society of Clinical Psychology and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

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