Making Sense of Generalized Anxiety and Panic Disorders

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If you’re living with anxiety or have panic attacks, you’re not alone. Women are twice as likely as men to have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) or panic disorder,  which together affect nearly 6 percent of the U.S. population, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Although they share some of the same symptoms, GAD and panic disorder are two different conditions.

What’s the Difference Between Panic Disorder and GAD?

You may be diagnosed with panic disorder if you experience sudden, out-of-the-blue panic attacks and are very preoccupied with the fear of another attack. Panic attacks are intense. They occur unexpectedly, sometimes right when you wake up. The attacks peak in about 10 minutes or less and then begin to subside. Because a panic attack may seem like a breathing problem, heart attack or other illness, you may think your panic attack is life-threatening and end up visiting the doctor or emergency department frequently. 

If you have Generalized Anxiety Disorder you worry constantly, even when there’s no reason, and you have no control over your worrying. Although some level of worrying is normal for everyone, GAD is diagnosed if your worrying happens on most days and for at least six months. Common worries include your health, money, family or work. 

The two disorders share many of the same symptoms: trembling, sweating, trouble breathing, nausea, lightheadedness and heat or chill sensations.

However, panic disorder can also produce a pounding or racing heart, fear of losing control, fear of dying, chest pain or discomfort, feelings of choking, a smothering sensation, numbness or tingling, and feelings of unreality or being detached from yourself.

Those with Generalized Anxiety Disorder may have difficulty sleeping, headaches, irritability, tense muscles, a lump in the throat, fatigue, twitching, poor concentration, be unable to relax, be easily startled or urinate frequently.

The two disorders share many of the same symptoms: trembling, sweating, trouble breathing, nausea, lightheadedness and heat or chill sensations.

What Causes GAD and Panic Disorder?

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Researchers are finding the following similarities in people with all types of anxiety disorders:

  • Shy as a child
  • Female
  • Few economic resources
  • Divorced or widowed
  • Experienced numerous stressful life events
  • Other relatives have anxiety disorders

In addition, GAD has been found to result from substance abuse, or as a side effect of medicine. 

How Are They Treated?

Although they are different, GAD and panic disorder are both treatable with a type of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), medication or both. CBT will teach you different ways of thinking and reacting to situations so you’ll feel less anxious and less worried. The medications don’t cure the disorder, but they can relieve the symptoms. Treatment for either disorder can help you lead a normal life. 

Treatment can take time to be successful, so be patient. And because a healthy lifestyle can make a difference, you should be sure to get enough sleep and exercise, eat a healthy diet, and turn to people you trust when you need support. 

Small Steps: Seek Help Now
If you’re depressed and use drugs or alcohol to feel better, talk with your doctor right away to find alternatives to substance use.