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How is generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) diagnosed?

Here are the criteria for GAD from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) of the American Psychiatric Association:
  • Excessive anxiety and worry occurring more days than not for at least 6 months, about a variety of events.
  • The individual finds it difficult to control the worry.
  • The anxiety and worry are associated with three (or more) of the following six symptoms (with at least some symptoms having been present for more days than not for the past 6 months):
    • restlessness
    • being easily fatigued
    • eifficulty concentrating
    • irritability
    • muscle tension
    • sleep disturbance
  • The anxiety causes distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
  • The disturbance is not related to substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, a medication) or another medical condition. F. The disturbance is not better explained by another medical disorder (e.g., hyperthyroidism).
Anxiety about a variety of issues, more days than not for 6 months or longer.   And at a level that results in some social and occupational impairment - meaning that the person finds it difficult to control the worry and that the worry gets in the way of relating with others and getting things done.   The key here is that the anxiety is about a wide variety of issues.  For example- if the person is experiencing a grave financial crisis and finds himself worrying about finances most of the time - but doesn't find that the worry generalizes to other circumstances - we are less likely to generate this diagnosis.

The key elements then are (a) anxiety about a variety of situations; (b) more days than not; (c) for 6 months or longer; (d) the worry is difficult to control; (e) and the anxiety is at a level that interferes with daily functioning. 

It can be diagnosed via a clinical interview that assesses all of these areas. 

There are several steps in the process of diagnosing generalized anxiety disorder. Doctors routinely conduct a physical examination to rule out medical problems that may be causing your anxiety. A psychological test is usually given to eliminate other causes. Health care professionals may also ask a series of questions related to the symptoms experienced. The final diagnosis is made if you meet the specific criteria for GAD listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which include experiencing severe anxiety for a minimum of six months, not feeling in control of your anxiety, and having your worries get in the way of your daily routine.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.