How Anxiety Disorder Is Diagnosed

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Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a mental health condition that causes excessive worry along with other symptoms that can get worse over time and can interfere with your daily activities. It can sometimes be challenging to diagnose GAD and may take time.

If you are concerned that you or a loved one may have GAD, speak with your doctor to start the diagnosis process. 

worried woman

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Professional Screenings

A doctor or mental health professional can do a screening for GAD. Your primary care physician may refer you to a specialized mental health provider, such as a psychotherapist.

The diagnosis process will begin with the doctor asking questions about your:

  • Medical history 
  • Current prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications  
  • Symptoms 
  • Concerns about your mental health 

Your doctor will also do a physical exam and ask about any physical symptoms you may have. 

DSM-5 Criteria 

A doctor will use the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (DSM-5) criteria to diagnose GAD. The DSM-5 lists specific symptoms that help your doctor determine the type of condition you have.

DSM-5 criteria for generalized anxiety disorder include: 

  • Excessive worry and anxiety that happens more often than not for at least six months and affects different activities 
  • Problems controlling the worry
  • Worry and anxiety affecting your ability to function 
  • Another medical condition or medication is not causing these symptoms 
  • Another mental disorder is not causing how you feel 
  • Worry and anxiety are associated with three or more of the following six symptoms: 
  • Restlessness or feeling on edge 
  • Becoming tired easily 
  • Problems concentrating or feeling like your mind is blank
  • Irritability 
  • Muscle tension or aches 
  • Problems with sleep 

Generalized Anxiety Disorder Assessment (GAD-7) 

Your doctor may also use the Generalized Anxiety Disorder Assessment (GAD-7) during diagnosis.

The GAD-7 is a questionnaire that ranks your answers on a scale of zero to three. The questions focus on over the last two weeks how often you have been bothered by symptoms that might reflect GAD. Your doctor adds up the answers to the seven questions to determine if you have GAD and its severity.

GAD-7 Scoring

The total score on the GAD-7 ranges from zero to 21. The scores indicate:

  • Mild anxiety: 5 to 9
  • Moderate anxiety: 10 to 14
  • Severe anxiety: 15 to 21

Labs and Tests

Although there are no specific laboratory tests that can diagnose GAD, your doctor may order some to rule out the possibility of another medical condition causing your symptoms.

Other Mental Health Conditions

It is also possible to have GAD at the same time as a different mental health condition.

You may have:

  • Blood tests 
  • Urine tests
  • Other tests 

It is possible for certain medications and medical conditions to cause symptoms that can be similar to GAD. Make sure you share all of the vitamins, herbs, prescriptions, and OTC medications you take with your doctor. 

Self/At-Home Testing

You may be wondering if you have GAD. Although you can find online self-screening tests and other tools, an at-home assessment cannot provide a proper diagnosis of a mental health condition. Even if you take this type of test, you will still need to see a doctor to get a diagnosis and treatment. 

Accuracy of Self-Assessments

Self-screening tests may not be accurate and can give false-positive or false-negative results. A self-assessment cannot replace the experience and knowledge of a mental health professional. 

A Word From Verywell

It is normal to have some anxiety or worry once in a while, especially if you are under a lot of stress. However, GAD is more extreme and has specific symptoms. It is crucial not to wait before asking for help. Although it can be hard to seek out a diagnosis, it is the right decision.  

Being honest about your symptoms and what you are experiencing is essential to get the help you need. It will determine the type of care you receive. 

If you or a loved one is experiencing GAD, it is important to talk to your doctor. Receiving the correct diagnosis is the first step on the path to wellness because understanding the mental health condition you have is important for getting the right treatment. 

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  1. National Institute of Mental Health. Anxiety disorders. Updated July 2018.

  2. Locke AB, Kirst N, Shultz CG. Diagnosis and management of generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder in adults. Am Fam Physician. 2015;91(9):617-624.