Generalized anxiety disorder can cause secondary physical or mental disorders and aggravate symptoms of existing conditions. Certain mental disorders such as clinical depression and bipolar disorder often occur in combination with GAD. Physical complications include bruxism (teeth grinding), headaches, digestive problems and an increased risk of cardiovascular events.
Clinical Depression, Bipolar Disorder, and GAD
GAD is often co-morbid with other mental disorders (meaning the two disorders are present at the same time). Often the two disorders interact, with each disorder worsening the symptoms of the other. Cases of generalized anxiety disorder in combination with bipolar disorder or different types of depression are common.
Differentiating between clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder is complicated, as the disorders share a cluster of symptoms, including:
- Difficulty concentrating.
GAD and Substance Abuse
People with substance abuse problems have high rates of generalized anxiety problems. The risk of drug abuse, alcoholism, and cigarette smoking is higher than normal in people with GAD, but it’s not always clear which condition developed first.
Some people who live with generalized anxiety disorder turn to substance abuse in attempts to self-medicate symptoms of GAD. Certain types of substance abuse, in contrast, are known to trigger anxiety disorders.
GAD and Cardiovascular Disease
While the connection is not fully understood, anxiety disorders increase the risk of several cardiovascular conditions. People with generalized anxiety disorder have a higher than normal risk of the following:
- High cholesterol levels
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Thickened blood vessels (atherosclerosis).
Heart surgery outcomes may be adversely affected by generalized anxiety disorder, and both anxiety and clinical depression lower the chance of favorable heart surgery outcomes.
Physical Complications of GAD
Anxiety disorders and clinical depression both aggravate serious chronic health conditions, worsening reported symptoms and reducing quality of life. GAD is seen in combination with many different physical conditions, including:
- Allergic disorders
- Bruxism (teeth grinding during sleep)
- Chronic bronchitis
- Insomnia and other sleep disorders
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Tension headaches.
Suicide and Generalized Anxiety Disorders
Suicide rates are higher amongst people with anxiety disorders than amongst the general population. Suicide rates are even higher when anxiety disorders accompany clinical depression. Substance abuse can also increase a person with GAD’s risk for suicidal behavior.