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Biology 202
2002 Second Paper
On Serendip

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Joan Steiner

Anxiety is a common occurrence and emotion in everyday life. Yet there are several individuals today who suffer from great pangs of anxiety and feelings of panic at such extremely high levels that it becomes quite debilitating. A normal, everyday environment can become so overwhelming that the day itself can stop dead in it's tracks while the sufferer rides through the wave of intense emotions and thoughts which seem to be going a million miles a minute and showing no signs of stopping or slowing down.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is one of a multitude of Anxiety Disorders that affect many people around the world. An individual suffering from GAD differs from anyone else dealing with natural anxiety due to the chronic and exaggerated worrying that can occur on a daily basis. The worries and anxieties usually are not provoked by anything, and finding the source of the worries is usually quite difficult. They are associated with daily things, such as but not limited to, health, money, family, or work. People with GAD cannot alleviate their concerns and usually become so overwhelmed by the anxiety that getting through the day and doing their usual activities proves too difficult.(1)

As a disorder, GAD is diagnosable. However, it is usually a difficult thing to do since GAD, unlike many of the other Anxiety Disorders out there, does not have any definite symptoms like a "panic attack". Individuals are diagnosed with GAD when they spend at least six months worrying excessively about a number of everyday problems and the worrying happens more often than not. Other symptoms of GAD may include: Trouble falling or staying asleep, muscle tension, sweating, nausea, gastrointestinal discomfort or diarrhea, cold and clammy hands, difficulty swallowing, or jumpiness.(2)

The cause of GAD is relatively unknown. Many believe and have evidence that GAD can be genetic and may run in families, while others see a correlation to GAD and situations of extremely high pressure and stress. Some research even suggests that there could be a specific gene related to disorders like GAD. GAD often coexists with other anxiety disorders, clinical depression and substance abuse.(3) Doctors who treat patients with diagnosed clinical depression find symptoms of anxiety to be a good sign, because it means that the individual hasn't simply accepted their depressed mood as they would a free meal. They are depressed and they are anxious because they are concerned about the ego dystonic nature of their depressed mood. A thorough initial evaluation is rudimentary to ruling out other possible and more appropriate diagnoses.(4) Some also find GAD caused by an overdose or overproduction of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that usually fights depression and anxiety, but too much can cause a reverse affect.(5)

About ten million adults or 3-4% of the population suffer from GAD, and women are more likely to have it than men. It can start at any time during childhood and adolescence, but can begin in adulthood too, usually around the early twenties.(3)

There are a few ways to go about treatment of GAD. The most common approaches are with psychological treatment, and if necessary medication. GAD patients have been shown to respond best to cognitive-behavioral therapy, an active form of therapy that involves more than just talking to a therapist. The individual gradually learns to see situations and problems in a different perspective and learns the methods and techniques to use to alleviate and reduce anxiety.(6) Drug treatment, although suggestively not the best way to go about treatment is another commonly used alternative. Certain medications are used to help relieve some of the symptoms of GAD, such as Valium and Ativan, the two most prescribed benzodiazepines. A non-benzdiazepine medication used for treatment is buspar (buspirone), a better alternative for long-term treatment. And, of course, self-help and support groups are another source of treatment that is encouraged.(4)

As amazing and complex as the brain is, the development and recognition of the numerous conditions and problems that can go on with the brain show how delicate a human's mentality and stability is, and how vulnerable it seems to be to the rapidly changing times and developments of society. It seems to be the nature of the brain and mentality to be slow in adjusting to the various new outputs that are created as society and the world progresses. Will science be able to find a way to make the brain adjust and accept change more quickly? This can be seen as a task similar to making evolution as fast as the first world's rate of development.


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