There is no laboratory test to say you have an generalized anxiety disorder. It is diagnosed based on your symptoms, and the severity of your symptoms. Often, anxiety is diagnosed when you seek treatment for the physical symptoms that accompany it. For example, you might have chest pains or heart palpitations and contact the doctor or visit an emergency room because you think you are having a heart attack. When tests don’t reveal any heart problems, you might be referred to a mental health specialist to determine if you have an anxiety disorder.
Ruling Out Physical Illnesses
Because there are a number of physical symptoms of anxiety, your doctor might start with laboratory tests, such as blood tests, to rule out any possible underlying conditions. Some of the physical signs of anxiety are:
- General aches and pains
- Trouble sleeping
- Stomach aches
- Chest pains
- Heart palpitations
- Feeling as if you can’t breath
- Trouble swallowing
These symptoms are also found in physical illnesses, such as heart conditions, asthma, thyroid problems or menopause. You should also let your doctor know of any medications your are taking, or recently took, as some side effects can cause symptoms similar to anxiety. Because of this, your doctor needs to make sure a physical illness isn’t causing your symptoms. If it is, treating it should get rid of the symptoms.
Once your doctor has ruled out any physical illnesses, he might refer you to a mental health specialist that works with anxiety disorders, usually a psychiatrist or a psychologist. This doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms as well as about emotional symptoms, such as worrying. One of the main symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder is excessive worrying. Because of this, your doctor might ask:
- How much do you worry?
- Do you feel like you are unable to stop worrying?
- Does your worrying interfere with your daily life?
- Does worrying interfere with your relationships?
- How long have you been excessively worrying?
- Do you find it hard to focus or concentrate because of worrying?
- Are you having trouble sleeping?
- Do you have muscle tension or headaches?
There are also some standard questionnaires, called rating scales, that can be used to determine your level of anxiety. Your doctor might ask you to complete a questionnaire with questions similar to the previous questions as well as about your physical symptoms.
This information helps your doctor determine if you have generalized anxiety disorder. Because your doctor relies on your description of your symptoms to make an accurate diagnosis, it is important to answer the questions honestly. For those with generalized anxiety disorder, this can sometimes be hard. You might worry that you are going to "sound crazy" or your doctor is going to suggest you be hospitalized. You might worry that your doctor will judge you. Remember, your doctor is there to help you and he (or she) wants and needs to know exactly how you are feeling. The more information you share, the better your doctor can accurately diagnose and treat you.
This post is not meant to help you diagnose anxiety but rather to provide an overview of the diagnostic process for generalized anxiety disorder. If you think you have an anxiety disorder, consult with your doctor.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.