General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) strikes people worldwide, including children, with vague, intense anxiety and panic.
The two main treatments for GAD are medication and psychotherapy, either alone or in combination.
Doctors use antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications to treat GAD and other various types of anxiety disorders. Commonly prescribed drugs include:
Anti-anxiety drugs. Benzodiazepines are sedatives that often ease anxiety within 30 to 90 minutes, but they can be habit-forming if you take them for more than a few weeks. For this reason, your doctor may prescribe them for only a short time to help you get through a particularly anxious period. The most commonly prescribed sedatives include: alprazolam (Xanax), chlordiazepoxide (Librium), clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium) and lorazepam (Ativan).
- These medications may cause unsteadiness, drowsiness, reduced muscle coordination and problems with balance. Higher doses and long-term use can cause memory problems. Don't drive or use heavy machinery while taking these drugs.
- Another medication prescribed for anxiety disorders such as GAD is buspirone (BuSpar). This drug often doesn't work as well if you've taken benzodiazepines in the past. A common side effect of buspirone is a brief feeling of lightheadedness shortly after taking the medicine. Less common side effects include headaches, nausea, nervousness and insomnia.
- Antidepressants. These drugs influence the activity of certain brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) to help nerve cells (neurons) in your brain send and receive messages. Examples of antidepressants used to treat anxiety include: fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), imipramine (Tofranil) and venlafaxine (Effexor).
- In general, antidepressants are effective 60 percent to 80 percent of the time. But because your doctor can't predict which medication will work best for you, you may need to try more than one to find which drug works best for you. Further, antidepressants usually don't work immediately. The medication may begin to work within two weeks, but it may take up to eight weeks before you notice its full effects.
Also known as talk therapy, this treatment involves receiving help from a mental health professional through a combination of talking and listening.
One type of psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, examines distortions in thinking that lead to psychological problems. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is highly effective in treating mental illness, particularly anxiety disorders such as GAD. It's based on the foundation that you are what you think.
During cognitive-behavioral therapy, a therapist helps you identify distorted thoughts and beliefs that trigger psychological stress, fear or depression. You learn to replace negative thoughts with more positive, realistic perceptions, and you learn ways to view and cope with life events differently. Generally a short-term treatment, cognitive-behavioral therapy emphasizes learning to develop a sense of mastery and control over your thoughts and feelings.
Treatment for GAD or any mental illness is tailored to the each person. No single treatment regimen works for everyone. Most treatment occurs on an outpatient basis, but some people may need care in a hospital setting.
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