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Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is defined as chronic, excessive worry and fear that seems to have no real cause. Children or adolescents with generalized anxiety disorder often worry a lot about things such as:

  • Future events
  • Past behaviors
  • Social acceptance
  • Family matters
  • Personal abilities
  • School performance

Anxiety disorders are believed to have biological, family, and environmental factors that contribute to the cause. Some risk factors for anxiety disorder include:

  • A chemical imbalance in the brain
  • An inherited a biological tendency to be anxious
  • Learned anxiety and fear from family members and others who frequently display increased anxiety around the child

Generalized anxiety disorder symptoms

It's normal for all children and adolescents to experience some anxiety. When worries and fears persist and interfere with normal activities, it could be a sign of a problem.

Unlike adults with this disorder, children and adolescents usually do not realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants. Children and adolescents with GAD often require frequent reassurance from adults in their lives.

While every child may experience anxiety disorder differently, some common signs include:

  • Many worries about things before they happen

  • Many worries about friends, school or activities

  • Constant thoughts and fears about safety of self and/or safety of parents

  • Refusing to go to school

  • Frequent stomachaches, headaches or other physical complaints

  • Muscle aches or tension

  • Sleep disturbance

  • Excessive worry about sleeping away from home

  • Clingy behavior with family members

  • Feeling as though there is a lump in the throat

  • Fatigue

  • Lack of concentration

  • Being easily startled

  • Irritability

  • Inability to relax

Diagnosis and treatment

A child psychiatrist or other qualified mental health professional usually diagnoses anxiety disorders in children or adolescents following a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation. Parents who note symptoms of severe anxiety in their child or teen can help by seeking an evaluation and treatment as soon as possible. Early treatment may help prevent future problems.

It's possible to effectively treat anxiety disorders. Treatment is based on your child's individual needs and may include:

  • Medication, such as anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication
  • Family therapy
  • Consultation with the child's school

Prevention of generalized anxiety disorder

Preventive measures to reduce the incidence of generalized anxiety disorders in children are not known. However, early detection and intervention can reduce the severity of symptoms, enhance the child's normal growth and development, and improve the quality of life experienced by children or adolescents with anxiety disorders.

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