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Risk Factors for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
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:
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.
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.
Approximately one-fourth of first-degree relatives will be affected.
People 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.
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.
Anxiety rates among children and adolescents have increased significantly since the 1950s. Two 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 the victim of a crime.
History of Self-Harm
Adolescents who engage in self-harm by age 16 (with or without intent of suicide) are at a higher risk for a diagnosis of anxiety by young adulthood. Those with suicidal intent had a higher risk than those who did not.
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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(2):182-189.
Rapee RM. Family factors in the development and management of anxiety disorders. Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev. 2012;15(1):69-80.
11/6/2014 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114697/Generalized-anxiety-disorder: Mars B, Heron J, et al. Clinical and social outcomes of adolescent self harm: population based birth cohort study. BMJ. 2014;349:g5954.
- Reviewer: Adrian Preda, MD
- Review Date: 12/2016
- Update Date: 10/09/2019