Diagnosing Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is possibly the most common anxiety disorder, affecting 5-6% of the population.  It is characterized by chronic worry about many life problems and circumstances and differs from normal worry through the intensity, frequency and uncontrollability of the thoughts.  Since anxiety and feelings of stress are a response to pressure, and the more consistent the pressure, the worse the anxiety feels.

For someone who has symptoms of GAD, the doctor will begin his or her evaluation by asking questions about medical history and performing a physical exam. Though there are no lab tests to specifically diagnose anxiety disorders, the doctor may use various tests to look for physical illness as the cause of the symptoms.  The diagnosis of GAD is based upon reports of the intensity and duration of symptoms which includes problems with functioning which may be caused by anxiety symptoms. The symptoms and degree of dysfunction indicate a specific anxiety disorder; GAD is diagnosed if symptoms are present for more days than not during a period of at least six months and if they interfere with daily living (ex: causing you to miss work or school).

Your doctor may also refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist, doctors who use specially designed interviews and assessment tools to evaluate a person for a mental illness. The doctor bases his or her diagnosis on the person’s report of symptoms, including any social or functional problems caused by the symptoms, and his or her observation of attitudes and behavior. The doctor then determines if the person’s symptoms and degree of disability point to a diagnosis of a specific disorder.

Do I have an anxiety disorder?

If you personally recognize several of these symptoms and signs, and they won’t go away, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder:

• Are you constantly tense, worried, or on edge?

• Does your anxiety interfere with your work, school, or family responsibilities?

• Are you plagued by fears that you know are irrational, but can’t shake?

• Do you believe that something bad will happen if certain things aren’t done a certain way?

• Do you avoid everyday activities because they make you anxious?

• Do you experience sudden, unexpected attacks of heart-pounding panic?

• Do you feel like danger and catastrophe are around every corner?

What are the treatment options?

One potential treatment which has been used to treat both conditions is Zoloft or sertraline, which is as effective for depression as older tricyclic antidepressants, but with fewer side effects.  Though sertraline shares common side effects and contraindications of other SSRIs, it does not cause weight gain, and its cognitive effects are mild.  In addition, sertraline has safely and effectively treated millions of people with depression and certain anxiety conditions for over 15 years so it’s a product you can trust.