Differential Diagnosis of Anxiety

GAD must be differentiated from the following conditions:

  • Anxiety as a result of an organic cause
  • Anxiety triggered by a specific situation
  • Normal anxiety in response to stress

Because brief anxiety is a normal reaction common in specific situations, it is different than generalized, chronic anxiety. GAD must also be distinguished from other psychiatric disorders, medical conditions, and drug-related conditions.

Psychiatric disorders that may cause symptoms similar to GAD include the following:

  • Major depressive disorder (depression)
  • Other anxiety disorders
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Phobias
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia

Depression and anxiety often occur simultaneously, and each must be evaluated to make an appropriate treatment plan. When the anxiety is focused on certain situations, as in OCD or PTSD, and when it is expressed as panic, it is diagnosed and treated as such.

Anxiety also is associated with drug and alcohol abuse. It is a symptom of withdrawal from alcohol, benzodiazapines, cocaine, marijuana, and SSRIs. Certain stimulants (e.g., amphetamines, asthma medication, caffeine) can produce anxiety.

Publication Review By: Debra Emmite, M.D.

Published: 02 May 2001

Last Modified: 01 Sep 2015