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If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
You feel panicked. Your heart is racing, your palms are sweaty, and you feel a crushing sense of dread about how you’re going to possibly get through your impossibly long to-do list.
Occasionally having episodes of anxiety like this is a normal part of life. In fact, according to a 2019 study, about one in six adults have experienced symptoms of anxiety in the past two weeks (Terlizzi, 2020).
For some people, though, these feelings of anxiety can become more widespread. They feel it more often than not. It interferes with their wellbeing in multiple situations. If this sounds like you, you might be affected by a condition called generalized anxiety disorder.
You might be wondering if there is a generalized anxiety disorder test to confirm your suspicions. While there is no one test you can take for this condition, there are screening assessments your provider can use to make the diagnosis. If anxiety symptoms are causing you concern, your healthcare provider can help you get diagnosed and access treatments that can help.
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What is generalized anxiety disorder?
Generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, is a common mental health condition characterized by excessive worry. A person with GAD experiences persistent, extreme, and unrealistic worry about everyday things. They feel constantly overwhelmed with anxiety (Munir, 2021).
The anxiety that people feel with generalized anxiety disorder often feels difficult to control. This could mean worrying about money, family, health, or the future. The worry is sometimes accompanied by other non-specific mental and physical symptoms (Munir, 2021).
- Feeling restless or on edge
- Being easily fatigued
- Having trouble concentrating
- Feeling more irritable than usual
- Experiencing muscle tension
- Having trouble sleeping
Researchers don’t know exactly what causes otherwise normal occasional anxiety to become generalized anxiety disorder. The systems in the brain that process the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine appear to play a role in how your body handles stress and anxiety. One theory is that too much or too little activity in these systems can lead to the development of GAD (Munir, 2021).
Other factors that might contribute to causing generalized anxiety include (Munir, 2021):
- Chronic stress or trauma
- Having another mental health or medical condition
- Having close relatives with GAD
- Substance use
Is there a generalized anxiety disorder test (GAD test)?
There is no single generalized anxiety disorder test. Instead, your primary care provider might perform a handful of tests to rule out medical conditions causing your symptoms or use various screening tools for GAD (Chand, 2021).
To assess your symptoms, your healthcare provider might run some basic lab tests and will likely ask you about your (Chand, 2021):
- Family history
- Personal medical history
- Anxiety symptoms and when they started
There are several scientifically validated questionnaires that healthcare providers use to screen for generalized anxiety disorder. The most commonly used is the 7-item Generalized Anxiety Disorders Scale (GAD-7). This generalized anxiety disorder test can’t diagnose GAD on its own, but it can help your provider gather the information they need to help you (Johnson, 2019).
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The GAD-7 is a diagnostic tool made up of seven items measuring anxiety and worry. Each item is scored from 0 to 3, with the total score ranging from 0 to 21. Higher scores reflect more severe anxiety. The test includes questions about how strongly you feel the following symptoms (Johnson, 2019):
- Nervous, anxious, or on edge
- Unable to stop or control worrying
- As if you worry too much
- Like you have trouble relaxing
- As if you become annoyed or irritated easily
- Afraid something awful might happen
How is generalized anxiety disorder diagnosed?
While there isn’t a single test for generalized anxiety disorder, there are criteria your provider will likely use to diagnose you. The American Psychiatric Association created the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders fifth edition (DSM-5) to develop standard criteria for each mental health condition.
The DSM-5 lists the following criteria for generalized anxiety disorder (Munir, 2021):
- Excessive anxiety and worry for at least six months
- Difficulty controlling the worrying.
- The anxiety is associated with three or more of the below symptoms for at least six months:
- Restlessness, feeling keyed up or on edge
- Being easily fatigued
- Difficulty in concentrating or mind going blank, irritability
- Muscle tension
- Sleep disturbance
- The anxiety results in significant distress or impairment in social and occupational areas
- The anxiety is not attributable to any physical cause
Your healthcare provider will look at the results of any lab work you have done, your history of symptoms, and your responses to any screening tests to see if you meet the criteria for GAD.
What are the treatment options for generalized anxiety?
The two main treatments for generalized anxiety disorder are psychotherapy and medications. You will likely get the most benefit from a combination of the two. However, it may take some trial and error to discover which treatments work best for your situation (Munir, 2021).
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
Treating GAD often involves using cognitive techniques to help reduce excessive worry. Your therapist can help you learn to change the thinking patterns that lead to anxiety, challenge thoughts that overestimate risk, and identify and change catastrophic thinking (Kaczkurkin, 2015).
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): what is it and what does it work for?
Studies have found that CBT can be beneficial in treating generalized anxiety. It has shown better long-term outcomes than just learning relaxation techniques. CBT may even be more helpful if it uses both cognitive and exposure techniques, which involve slowly increasing your exposure to anxiety-provoking situations, but more research is needed (Kaczkurkin, 2015).
Several medications have been proven to help manage the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder. Some are Food and Drug Administration approved for GAD, but others are used off-label, which means that healthcare providers can use them in an unapproved way if the providers believe they are safe and beneficial. These medications can be used alone or in combination with cognitive-behavioral therapy (Bandelow, 2017).
Some medications that have been used to treat generalized anxiety disorder include (Bandelow, 2017):
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
- Tricyclic antidepressants
- Buspirone (Buspar; see Important Safety Information)
Studies looking at preventing the relapse of anxiety symptoms have found that you should continue medications for anxiety disorders for at least 12 months after your symptoms have stopped. This can make them less likely to return later (Bandelow, 2017).
When to see a healthcare provider
If symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder are beginning to interfere in your daily life, work, school, or relationships, reach out to a healthcare provider or mental health professional. GAD can be debilitating if left untreated, but your healthcare providers can help you access effective treatments.
- Bandelow, B., Michaelis, S., & Wedekind, D. (2017). Treatment of anxiety disorders. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 19(2), 93–107. doi: 10.31887/DCNS.2017.19.2/bbandelow. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5573566/
- Chand SP, Marwaha R. (2021). Anxiety. [Updated 2021 May 1]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470361/
- Johnson, S. U., Ulvenes, P. G., Øktedalen, T., & Hoffart, A. (2019). Psychometric properties of the general anxiety disorder 7-item (gad-7) scale in a heterogeneous psychiatric sample. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 1713. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01713. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6691128/
- Kaczkurkin, A. N., & Foa, E. B. (2015). Cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety disorders: an update on the empirical evidence. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 17(3), 337–346. doi: 10.31887/DCNS.2015.17.3/akaczkurkin. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4610618/
- Munir S, Takov V. (2021). Generalized anxiety disorder. [Updated 2021 May 8]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441870/
- Terlizzi, E.P., Villarroel, M.A. (2020). Symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder among adults: United States, 2019. NCHS Data Brief, no 378. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db378.htm