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Diagnostic Criteria for Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Feeling anxious a lot of the time? Are you ruled by worry? Can’t get a handle on out-of-control troublesome thoughts? Approximately 4% of the population meets the criteria for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Unlike people suffering from phobic anxiety, those experiencing GAD worry about minor, everyday issues in life, such as being on time, household chores, children’s minor illnesses, job performance. The list goes on. If you suspect that you or a friend may be suffering from Generalized Anxiety Disorder, the guidelines listed below will discern whether you are dealing with GAD or you are simply a common everyday “worry-wart”.


The DSM-IV lists the following criteria for Generalized Anxiety Disorder:

  1. 1. Excessive anxiety and worry occurring almost daily for a period of at least six months. The anxiety is related to a number of situations and events, rather than just one particular issue.
  2. The sufferer finds it difficult to control the anxiety and worry.
  3. The anxiety and worry are associated with at least three of the following symptoms, and these symptoms occur on most days for a period of six months:
    i) restlessness or feeling wound up and on edge
    ii) irritability
    iii) difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
    iv) lack of stamina, easily tired
    v) consistent muscle tension and associated pain
    vi) sleep disturbances
  4. The anxiety is not associated with fear of panic (as in Panic Disorder), fear of social situations (Social Phobia), obsessional in nature (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder), being away from home or loved ones (Separation Anxiety), or other obvious psychological causes.
  5. The worry and anxiety cause significant distress to the sufferer and impair personal and working relationships.
  6. The worry and anxiety is not a result of legal or illegal substances, or a physical medical condition, such as hyperthyroidism.

As with most anxiety disorders, genetics seems to play a part in the manifestation of the disorder. GAD appears to run in families and twin studies would also suggest that genes are at least partly responsible for the disorder. However, genetics only dictates a tendency for any condition to develop and as with other anxiety disorders, there is usually a history of stressful circumstances surrounding the development of the illness.

Short term use of benzodiazepines (minor tranquillizers) is one means of treating GAD, but psychological methods are preferred due to the addictive nature of these drugs. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, a method where disturbing, worrying thoughts are recognized, challenged, and replaced by more positive thoughts, is the treatment of choice for this condition.


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