Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Children and Teens
Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Children and Teens
What is generalized anxiety disorder?
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a condition in which your child has fears and uncontrollable worries that last for at least 6 months. If your child has GAD, he worries a lot about everyday problems. Your child is tense and nervous much of the time. He worries that something bad is going to happen even when there is little reason to think that way.
GAD can last many years and sometimes an entire lifetime.
What is the cause?
The exact cause of this disorder is not known.
The brain makes chemicals that affect thoughts, emotions, and actions. Without the right balance of these chemicals, there may be problems with the way you think, feel, or act. Children with this disorder may have too little or too much of some of these chemicals.
Generalized anxiety disorder tends to run in families. It is not known if this is caused by genes passed from parent to child. It may also be that parents fear and worry a lot, and children learn this behavior from the parents.
Stressful life events and situations also play a major part. Alcohol, illegal drugs, or medical conditions can cause anxiety.
Some medicines can cause anxiety or make it worse. These include asthma medicines, caffeine and stimulant medicines, and steroids such as prednisone.
Anxiety is more common if your child has few friends, family, and activities. Poor diet and lack of daily exercise may also make anxiety disorders more likely.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms include worrying too much about things that your child canâ€™t control. Your child may be short-tempered and unable to focus or concentrate because of the worrying. Physical symptoms may include:
Nausea, sweating or shaking
Having a very fast heartbeat
Feeling out of breath or like fainting
Needing to go to the bathroom often
How is it diagnosed?
Your child’s healthcare provider or a mental health therapist will ask about the child’s symptoms, medical and family history, and any medicines the child is taking. He or she will make sure that your child does not have a medical illness or drug or alcohol problem that could cause the symptoms.
How is it treated?
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) helps your child learn new ways to manage anxiety.
Family therapy may also be helpful. Family therapy treats the whole family rather than just your child. Children often feel very supported when parents and siblings attend therapy with them and work as a group.
If your child has severe symptoms, both behavioral therapy and medicine may be best. Several types of medicines can help treat anxiety. Your childâ€™s healthcare provider will work with you and your child to select the best medicine. Your child may need to take more than one type of medicine.
What can I do to help my child?
Support your child. Let your child talk about the scary feelings if he feels ready. Do not force the issue if your child does not feel like sharing his thoughts. Do not criticize your child for acting younger than his age. Let your child know that he is safe and protected. The support and understanding that you provide can help children deal with scary emotions.
Stay in touch with teachers, babysitters, and other people who care for your child to share information about symptoms your child may be having.
Help your child learn to manage stress. Teach children and teens to practice deep breathing or other relaxation techniques when feeling stressed. Help your child find ways to relax, for example take up a hobby, play, listen to music, watch movies, or take walks.
Take care of your childâ€™s physical health. Make sure your child eats a healthy diet and gets enough sleep and exercise every day. Teach children and teens to avoid alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and drugs.
Check your childâ€™s medicines. To help prevent problems, tell your healthcare provider and pharmacist about all the medicines, natural remedies, vitamins, and other supplements that your child takes.
Contact your healthcare provider or therapist if you have any questions or your childâ€™s symptoms seem to be getting worse.
Get emergency care if your child or teenager has ideas of suicide, harming himself, or harming others.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth. Last modified: 2014-02-20 Last reviewed: 2014-01-27
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Children and Teens: References
Anxiety Disorders: Treatment. National Institues of Mental Health. Accessed 1/26/2014 from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtmlGuidelines for the pharmacological treatment of anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder in primary care. Bandelow B, Sher L, Bunevicius R, Hollander E, Kasper S, Zohar J, MÃ¶ller HJ; WFSBP Task Force on Mental Disorders in Primary Care; WFSBP Task Force on Anxiety Disorders, OCD and PTSD. Int J Psychiatry Clin Pract. 2012 Jun;16(2):77-84. doi: 10.3109/13651501.2012.667114. Epub 2012 Apr 30. Accessed 1/26/2014 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22540422
Mindfulness and Acceptance: Expanding the Cognitive-Behavioral Tradition. Steven C. Hayes, Victoria M. Follette, Marsha M. Linehan. Guilford 2011
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