Diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) can be hard to do. It can be tough to know if something is normal anxiety or GAD. There are also some other medical issues that may cause problems. The doctor will ask questions and look for a pattern of problems in the answers. Certain tools will suggest what symptoms or number of symptoms would suggest GAD or other mental health illnesses. The symptoms must be present for at least 6 months.
The doctor will ask you to describe worries, anxiety, “nerves,” stress, and other symptoms. It is also important to know if this anxiety comes in short bouts or has been fairly regular for a long time.
Acute anxiety lasts from hours to weeks. It is often linked to a specific problem. Persistent anxiety lasts from months to years. It may be considered a part of your personality. This type of anxiety is not often connected to a particular event.
Evaluation of Medical Disorders
The doctor will rule out other medical problems that can cause anxiety, such as:
- Hypoglycemia—low blood sugar
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Chronic pain conditions
- Cushing disease
- Mitral valve prolapse
- Carcinoid syndrome
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Heart failure
- Tourette syndrome
Your doctor should also ask about your medicine, herbal supplements, and vitamins. You may be asked to stop taking them for a time to see if they play a role. Medicine that has been shown to cause or worsen anxiety include:
- Over-the-counter cold remedies and diet pills
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
Evaluation for Substance Abuse
Use or withdrawal from addictive substances can cause anxiety. Your doctor may ask about your use of alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, addictive medications (particularly sedatives), illegal drugs, and other substances.
Evaluation of Other Psychiatric Disorders
Anxiety may be a symptom of another mental health illness. Another illness may also be present along with GAD. You may be screened for:
Ballenger JC, Davidson JR, Lecrubier Y, et al. Consensus statement on generalized anxiety disorder from the International consensus Group on Depression and Anxiety. J Clin Psychiatry. 2001;62 Suppl 11:53-58.
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). American Psychiatric Association; 2013.
Flint AJ. Generalised anxiety disorder in elderly patients: epidemiology, diagnosis and treatment options. Drugs Aging. 2005;2(1)2:101-114.
Generalized anxiety disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/generalized-anxiety-disorder. Accessed January 13, 2020.
Generalized anxiety disorder. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/generalized-anxiety-disorder. Accessed January 13, 2020.
Last reviewed May 2020 by Adrian Preda, MD Last Updated: 7/29/2020