Diagnosis of Anxiety

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) provides the criteria for diagnosis of general anxiety disorder.

Diagnostic Criteria for Generalized Anxiety Disorder

  1. Excessive anxiety and worry (apprehensive expectation), occurring more days than not for at least 6 months, about a number of events or activities (such as work or school performance).
  2. The person finds it difficult to control the worry.
  3. The anxiety and worry are associated with three (or more) of the following six symptoms (with at least some symptoms present for more days than not for the past 6 months). Note: Only one item is required in children.
    • Restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge
    • Being easily fatigued
    • Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
    • Irritability
    • Muscle tension
    • Sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless unsatisfying sleep)
  4. The focus of anxiety and worry is not confined to features of an Axis I disorder, e.g., the anxiety or worry is not about having a panic attack (as in panic disorder), being embarrassed in public (as in social phobia), being "contaminated" (as in obsessive-compulsive disorder), being away from home or close relatives (as in separation anxiety disorder), gaining weight (as in anorexia nervosa), having multiple physical complaints (as in somatization disorder), or having a serious illness (as in hypochondriasis), and the anxiety and worry do no occur exclusively during posttraumatic stress disorder.
  5. The anxiety, worry, or physical symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
  6. The disturbance is not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, a medication) or a general medical condition (e.g., hyperthyroidism) and does not occur exclusively during a mood disorder, a psychotic disorder, or a pervasive developmental disorder.

APA. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed. 2013. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association (APA).

Organic causes of anxiety include the following medical and substance-related conditions.

Medical Conditions that Cause Anxiety

  • Cardiac disease
  • Hyperthyroidism (sweating, irritability)
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  • Heart attack
  • Pulmonary embolus (blood clot in pulmonary artery)
  • Tachycardia (increased heart rate)
  • Temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE)

Publication Review By: Debra Emmite, M.D.

Published: 02 May 2001

Last Modified: 01 Sep 2015