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A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.

It is possible to develop generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing GAD. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.

Risk factors for developing GAD include:

Gender

Women are diagnosed with GAD twice as often as men. Reasons for this include hormonal factors, cultural expectations, and more willingness to visit doctors and talk about their anxiety.

Family History

Anxiety disorders tend to run in families. This may be due to family dynamics, such as the failure to learn effective coping skills, overprotective behaviors, abuse, and violence.

Genetic Factor

Approximately one-fourth of first-degree relatives will be affected.

Substance Abuse

Nicotine, alcohol, cannabis, and cocaine abuse can increase the risk of GAD.

Medical Conditions

Patients with chronic illnesses have a greater risk of GAD.

Socioeconomic and Ethnic Factors

Members of poor minority groups, particularly immigrants, tend to be at greater risk for developing GAD. This may be due to problems adjusting to a new culture, feelings of inferiority, alienation, and loss of strong family ties.

Depression

Generalized anxiety disorder often occurs with depression, particularly major depression or chronic mild depression. Adolescents with depression seem particularly at risk for developing GAD in adulthood.

Cultural Factors

Two studies in 2000 found that anxiety rates among children and adolescents had increased significantly since the 1950s. Both studies suggested that anxiety was related to lack of social connections and a sense of increased environmental threat.

Stressful Events in Susceptible People

The initial appearance of GAD often follows a highly stressful event, such as the loss of a loved one, the loss of an important relationship, the loss of a job, or being a victim of a crime.

References:

Generalized anxiety disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated August 23, 2013. Accessed November 26, 2013.

Gliatto MF. Generalized anxiety disorder. Am Fam Physician. 2000 Oct 1;62(7):1591-1600. Available at: http://www.aafp.org/afp/20001001/1591.html. Accessed November 26, 2013.

Hettema JM, Prescott CA, et al. The structure of genetic and environmental risk factors for anxiety disorders in men and women. Arch Gen Psych. 2005;62:182-189.

Rapee RM. Family factors in the development and management of anxiety disorders. Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev. 2012;15:69-80.



Last reviewed November 2013 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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