People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) experience ongoing worry or fear that isn't related to a particular event or situation and is often focused on daily matters such as job responsibilities and health or somewhat trivial concerns like chores and appointments. Symptoms include physical tension, fast heartbeat, irritability, insomnia, and difficulty concentrating. People with GAD often feel helpless and unable to control their anxiety, which can potentially interfere with daily functioning.

Panic disorder is characterized by repeated periods of extreme panic, called panic attacks, which typically last for around five to 30 minutes. During a panic attack, a person feels suddenly overwhelmed and terrified and experiences physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, sweating, shaking, rapid heartbeat, and a sense of being in an unreal setting or disconnected from reality. Because symptoms are so severe, many people with panic disorder believe they are having a heart attack or dying. Anticipatory fear of having a panic attack can lead people to avoid going out in public.

Although GAD and panic disorder have separate and distinct symptoms, both can be effectively treated with psychotherapy and medication—either alone or in combination. Treatment often provides significant relief from symptoms for both conditions.

Publication Review By: Karen L. Swartz, M.D.

Published: 18 Apr 2011

Last Modified: 17 Nov 2011