“I always thought I was just a worrier. I’d feel keyed up and unable to relax. At times it would come and go, and at times it would be constant. It could go on for days. I just couldn’t let it go…”
“I’d have terrible sleeping problems. There were times I’d wake up wired in the middle of the night…My heart would race or pound…”
Although delving into psychiatric disorders is precarious, I have tried my best to give a basic overview of this disorder. Of all parts of our bodies, the medical community generally agrees that we know the least about the brain. Although tons of research is being done all over the world, there are so many unknown components that it is hard to come to many absolute agreements as to what qualifies as a mental disorder and who is affected by them. However, nearly everyone agrees that because of the complexity of the brain, many people end up with slight misfirings which can fully throw off their bodies and their lives. At the same time, the complexity of the brain means that there is no blanket treatment or set of symptoms that marks each disorder. Someone with GAD or any other disorder may experience some common symptoms in conjunction with other rare symptoms, which can make these disorders difficult to diagnose and treat. But, with the help of a psychiatrist and patience, often times a treatment will be found that greatly enhances the individual’s quality of life.
Pathology: With any psychiatric disorder, there are many theories as to how it develops, whether biologically, culturally, or psychologically. Within recent decades, brain researchers have provided more evidence that generalized anxiety disorder is related to biological factors.
There are receptors in the brain that receive the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). When GABA is transmitted to the receptor, the neuron is told to stop firing. Generalized Anxiety Disorder occurs when GABA cannot bind accurately to the receptor cells, or when there are too few GABA receptors. Without the appropriate amount of GABA reception, the neurons excessively fire, causing the person to not receive enough messages to “stop”. The result is the person is continually keyed up, becoming excessively worried and upset.
Symptoms: Generalized Anxiety Disorder is diagnosed when a person worries excessively for a period longer than 6 months. People with GAD cannot get rid of their concern, even when they logically know that the situation is not appropriate for the high amount of worry. Common symptoms of GAD include:
- difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- muscle tension
- difficulty swallowing
- feeling out of breath
- hot flashes
- inability to relax
- feeling of restlessness
The symptoms can range from mild, where the person can still function, hold down a job, etc. to severe, in which the person cannot perform daily activities. Generalized Anxiety Disorder has an incredibly high correlation with depression, therefore many people have both.
- A buildup of stress
- A serious or prolonged physical illness
- A personality type or disorder more prone to anxiety
- An anxiety disorder in the family
Treatment: Again, since there are so many different theories pertaining to psychiatric disorders, there are many different methods of treatment. However, since I am focusing on the biological component to this disorder, it is important to describe the popular biological treatments.
Those with GAD are typically prescribed anti-anxiety drugs, which include benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines function by binding GABA to the appropriate neuro-receptor sites. Common benzodiazepines include: Xanax, Valium, Ativan, and more.
Morbidity: Generalized Anxiety Disorder in itself does not cause death.
Mortality: Approximately 6% of the U.S population has this disorder, with twice as many women being diagnosed each year. Of the 6%, only 1/4 receive treatment. Global statistics are not currently available.
Epidemiology:These statistics are not currently available.
What you can do to help: If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms for a prolonged period of time, or even if you have some of these symptoms that make each day a struggle, please find help by seeing a psychiatrist. Living with a mental disorder can be incredibly difficult and debilitating, and there are many medicinal and non-medicinal treatments available.
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