Diagnosing Generalized Anxiety Disorder

When stress and anxiety start to take over your life, it may be time to talk to your doctor.

Woman experiencing anxiety.

© Antonio Gravante | Dreamstime.com

Feeling stressed and anxious all too often? You may have an underlying medical condition that’s producing anxiety or, more specifically, generalized anxiety disorder.

The good news: It’s treatable. Together, you and your physician can get to the bottom of what’s troubling you, sometimes with the help of diagnostic questionnaires and laboratory tests.

Consult Your Doctor

Talk to your doctor about the anxiety and stress that is negatively affecting your life. You can be sure that you’re not the first to need help and certainly won’t be the last. In today’s world, problems with anxiety and stress are reaching epidemic proportions, so there is no need to be ashamed or embarrassed. We all need a little help now and then coping with life’s curve balls to keep from developing even generalized anxiety disorder and similar conditions.

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Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Once you’re ready to talk with your doctor about your anxiety and stress, it’s a good idea to come to your appointment prepared to answer the following questions:

  • What are your anxiety symptoms?
  • How long have you been experiencing these symptoms?
  • How do these anxiety symptoms affect your daily life?
  • Have you experienced any significant life change (good or bad) recently?
  • What are the sources of stress in your life?
  • How do you like to relax?
  • What do you do for fun?
  • Is there anyone in your life you feel comfortable confiding in?

Diagnostic Questionnaires

Your doctor may also ask you to fill out some standard questionnaires designed to help diagnose generalized anxiety disorder and similar conditions. Common questionnaires include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7-item (GAD-7) scale
  • Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HAM-A)
  • Zung Self-Rating Anxiety Scale (SAS)
  • Primary Care PTSD Screen (PC-PTSD)
  • Life Event Checklist (LEC)
  • Patient Stress Questionnaire
  • State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI)
  • Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI)
  • Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale-Anxiety (HADS-A)

Some doctors use their own rating scales that they or the medical center with whom they work have developed. You may be asked to fill out these questionnaires on your own, or a doctor or nurse may ask the questions while you provide the answers.

Diagnostic Tests

In addition to giving you questionnaires and rating scales, your doctor may order some diagnostic tests. Typically, these are to ascertain that your symptoms are caused by anxiety and not an underlying medical condition. Tests your doctor might order include:

  • Thyroid function test
  • Blood levels of iron and sugar
  • Glucose tolerance test
  • Lung function test
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) to evaluate the electrical activity of your heart
  • Endoscopy to look for stomach issues

Your doctor may order several tests or no tests at all. It depends on the symptoms you have, your medical history, and your risk factors for other illnesses. Don’t hesitate to ask your doctor why he or she chose to order certain tests and not others.


Originally published in February 2016 and updated.

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