Generalized Anxiety Disorder: The Mind/Body Connectionby Karen Vieira, MBA, PhD | May 5, 2008
GAD or generalized anxiety disorder is defined as a disorder characterized by irrational, uncontrollable worry about everyday issues and events. While someone without GAD may find themselves anxious in certain scenarios, persons with GAD may be almost paralyzed with anxiety in situations that should not generate that level of fear and worry. This anxiety may manifest itself physically through hot flashes, an accelerated heart beat, sweating, muscle aches, irritability and health issues.
While it has long been known that GAD can affect someone physically, new research is pointing to potential causes for GAD. Reported in Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers are studying the effects of some conditions such as thyroid disease, arthritis, migraine and respiratory disease and their connection to the onset of GAD. They approached this study knowing that physical illness often leads to depression. They wanted to find out if physical illness may cause GAD or other anxiety disorders.
They studied more than 4,000 adults for two years for signs of the GAD mind/body connection. They included all anxiety disorders such as agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic disorder. Their results thus far show an increased rate of anxiety disorders in patients suffering from physical conditions. They are trying to figure out how and why the connection exists. One thought is that when a person is suffering a physical illness they are faced with increased worry and anxiety, triggering the development GAD.
I would go one step further to say that it seems like the brain gets “stuck” in the worry and anxiety mode, and maybe it can’t get out of it due to the existing stress on the body caused by the illness. It would be interesting to see if GAD patients without illness triggers can recover from their GAD more easily.
It is the hope of researchers that these studies will have the same effect on the medical community as the depression/physical illness studies. As more was learned about depression and physical illness, more doctors watched for the signs in their patients and made treatments available. There may come a day when physical illness automatically leads to a mental health evaluation to help patients circumvent depression and anxiety.
Some doctors may begin to screen for GAD and prescribe antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication for conditions shown most likely to induce depression or anxiety disorders. In some cases this may be handled in a proactive manner if a patient is already an anxious or depressive person.
Sareen, J., Jacobi, F., Cox, B.J., Belik, S., Clara, I., Stein, M.B. (2006). Disability and Poor Quality of Life Associated With Comorbid Anxiety Disorders and Physical Conditions. Archives of Internal Medicine, 166(19), 2109-2116. DOI: 10.1001/archinte.166.19.2109
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