Management of Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Primary Care: Identifying the Challenges and Unmet Needs

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Background: Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is one of the most common psychiatric disorders in primary care, although it is often underrecognized and undertreated. GAD is chronic, disabling, and associated with other health problems. Treatment response is often unsatisfactory, but the clinical evidence base for new treatments has expanded substantially in the past decade and suggests a growing range of options for reducing the burden of GAD. The objective of this article was to review current literature on GAD and its management to provide an overview of the clinical importance of GAD in primary care and available treatments.

Data Sources: Recent studies (ie, over the past decade) on the epidemiology and treatment of GAD were identified by searching Medline using the term generalized anxiety disorder only and in combination with the terms epidemiology and treatment and for each drug class (benzodiazepines, azapirones, antidepressants, antihistamines, alpha-2-delta ligands, and antipsychotics) and for named drugs (buspirone, venlafaxine, duloxetine, fluoxetine, escitalopram, olanzapine, paroxetine, pregabalin, quetiapine, and risperidone in addition to psychological therapies and cognitive-behavioral therapy. The literature search was conducted in August 2008 for the period 1987–2009.

Study Selection: Studies were included if judged to be relevant to a review of the epidemiology and management of GAD. Articles were excluded if they were not written in English or were published more than 10 years before the literature search was conducted. A few older studies were included for which more recent research evidence was not available. Recent national and international guidelines for the management of GAD were also reviewed.

Data Extraction/Synthesis: Most currently available interventions have similar overall efficacy, and treatment choices should reflect the situation of individual patients. Important unmet needs exist for treatments (1) that work rapidly, with (2) broad spectrum benefits, (3) that can improve rates of remission and well-being, (4) are devoid of risk for withdrawal symptoms, and (5) have few if any adverse interactions with other drugs. Additional needs include (6) safer drugs for the elderly, (7) safe and effective drugs for children with GAD, (8) further evaluation of psychotherapy, and (9) understanding the appropriate circumstances for, and optimal choices of, drug combination.

Conclusion: While the development of novel treatments evolves, current management approaches can focus on improving identification and defining optimal use of available therapies for GAD.

Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry 2010;12(2):e1-e13

Submitted: December 23, 2008; accepted April 24, 2009.

Published online: March 4, 2010 (doi:10.4088/PCC.09r00772blu).

Corresponding author: Jonathan R. T. Davidson, MB, BS, FRCPsych, 3068 Baywood Dr, Seabrook Island, SC 29455 (

Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry 2010;12(2):e1-e13