How Prevalent is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is the Most Common of Anxiety Disorders

close up of anxious person's hands
Russell Johnson/EyeEm/Getty Images

As one of the most common of anxiety disorders, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) affects millions of people each year. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th edition (DSM-V), the handbook used by health care providers in mental health, 5.7% of Americans will experience GAD in their lifetime and over 3.1% of adults 18 and older are diagnosed each year. The average age at diagnosis is 31.


Who is at a Greater Risk of Developing GAD?

In the United States, 6.8 million American adults have GAD. Women are twice as likely as men to develop GAD in their lifetimes. GAD develops slowly over time and can begin at any point in your life, but is most likely to affect people between childhood and middle age. 

While women have been noted to be twice as likely to develop GAD, it is not clear if women are at a higher risk of developing GAD or simply are more likely than men to seek out treatment and an appropriate diagnosis. 

Some research has also found that GAD may affect people at different rates based on age. One study summarized current prevalence estimates and reported that, although research on GAD and the elderly is not complete, 17% of elderly men and 21.5% of elderly women experience severe anxiety Furthermore, the rate of GAD in this population may be the highest of any age group.

They also reported that the lowest prevalence rates are for people between the ages of 15-24. 

What are the Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

If you have generalized anxiety disorder, you may experience persistent worry and discomfort that lasts for months. Your level of anxiety is out of proportion to the situations at hand.

It is excessive and out of control, inhibiting your daily life. It may affect your ability to function at home or at work.

Common symptoms include:

  • Feeling restless
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Avoiding anxiety-inducing situations
  • Constantly needing reassurance

Getting Help For Generalized Anxiety Disorder

GAD is very common and can be managed through therapy and/or medication. It is often recommended that you visit your primary care doctor to make sure there isn't another health issue at play. Your doctor may run some tests like blood work to make sure everything is okay. If other medical issues are ruled out, she may refer you to a therapist specializing in anxiety disorders. 

A therapist or psychiatrist will diagnose you based on your symptoms and how long you have been experiencing anxiety. Based on how much it interferes with your routine, your doctor will recommend a course of therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy

Whether or not you need medication in addition to therapy sessions is dependent on your unique situation; medication is not an option for everyone.

Talk to your doctor about your specific needs and concerns to see if medication would be a good fit for you. 

In general, the prognosis for generalized anxiety disorder is good. With appropriate treatment and intervention, most patients make progress in treatment within a few weeks to a few months. 


American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5th edition, 2013. 

In The Clinic: Generalized Anxiety Disorder". Annals Of Internal Medicine, 2013.

Continue Reading