Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

  • Medical Author: Michael J. Peterson, MD, PhD
  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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Quick GuideGeneralized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) Pictures Slideshow: Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) Pictures Slideshow: Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

What are anxiety symptoms and signs?

Common symptoms and signs of anxiety disorder can include

  • restlessness or feeling edgy;
  • becoming tired easily, fatigue;
  • trouble concentrating, that may also appear as memory or attention problems;
  • feeling as if the mind is going "blank";
  • irritability;
  • muscle tension;
  • headaches;
  • sleep problems (trouble falling or staying asleep or having sleep that is not restful).

Anxiety that is associated with specific (specific or simple phobia) or social fears (social phobia) may also result in avoidance of certain situations or an elevation of symptoms to trigger a panic attack.

Panic attacks are sudden episodes of intense fear and/or physical discomfort that reach a peak within minutes. Specific signs and symptoms of panic attack include both physical and emotional symptoms such as:

  • palpitations (feelings of rapid and/or irregular heartbeats);
  • chest pain, chest tightness or other discomfort, feeling like one is having a heart attack;
  • shortness of breath or trouble breathing;
  • sweating of the palms;
  • nausea or other stomach upset;
  • trembling or shaking;
  • feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint;
  • derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (feeling detached from oneself);
  • fear of losing control or going insane;
  • numbness or tingling sensations;
  • chills or hot flashes;
  • feeling like one is choking;
  • a sense of impending doom;
  • feeling like one is dying.

Anxiety in children and teenagers

Many anxiety disorders first develop in childhood or adolescence. Although some may resolve, many persist into adulthood. Some anxiety symptoms are related to childhood development. For example, separation anxiety is normal in young children. However, when the fear of being away from their parent persists or interferes with normal development, separation anxiety disorder is diagnosed. Selective mutism refers to an inability to speak in social situations where there is an expectation to speak (such as school), but they are still able to speak in other settings. When this pattern persists and causes problems with school, work, or other performance, selective mutism is diagnosed.

The similarities and differences in symptoms of anxiety in adults compared to children and adolescents depend on the specific condition that is causing the anxiety. For example, symptoms of social phobia or specific phobia are quite similar in children and teens compared to adults except that children and teens are less likely to recognize that their thoughts or behaviors are irrational. Symptoms of anxiety in children and teens tend to be consistent with how they express feelings in general. For example, younger children are less able to express feelings verbally compared to older children, and thus tend to express anxiety by complaining of physical symptoms like stomach upset or headaches. They are also more likely to cry, have tantrums, or become clingy. In contrast to younger children, teens tend to express symptoms of anxiety similarly to adults. However, adolescents are more likely than adults to exhibit anxiety by becoming irritable or angry. Anxious teens are also more likely to have wide mood swings from normal (euthymic) to anxious, angry, and irritable.

Anxiety in men and women

Anxiety disorders are diagnosed in women about twice as often as in men. It is difficult to determine if women are more susceptible to anxiety disorders, or if men are less likely to acknowledge or report symptoms, and are thus diagnosed less often. Similarly, differences in how men and women experience or recognize anxiety symptoms may also influence anxiety disorder diagnoses.

Studies indicate that men seem to experience effects of anxiety differently compared to women. Specifically, men tend to exhibit more psychological symptoms of anxiety, like tension, irritability, and a sense of impending doom. In contrast, women tend to develop more physical symptoms like chest pain, palpitations, insomnia, shortness of breath, and nausea. Further, it seems that women with such physical symptoms of anxiety are more at risk for developing heart problems.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/7/2015
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