Generalized anxiety disorder: Study looks at heart-brain link

People with GAD experience an excessive and pervasive worry about everyday life events. This makes it difficult for them to complete tasks at work, maintain healthy relationships, and take care of themselves.

“People with generalized anxiety disorder worry excessively and constantly about everything going on in their lives, and they find it very difficult to control this worry,” said Dr. Olivia Remes, a psychologist and researcher at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, during a TED Talk on coping with anxiety.

As the neural basis for this anxious arousal in GAD is unclear, it is one of the most difficult anxiety disorders to treat. People with GAD often show resistance to drug treatment and talking therapies.

Hyperarousal symptoms, such as accelerated heart rate, shortness of breath, and sweating, are common among individuals with GAD.

However, these symptoms do not always correlate with physical responses. In other words, the person’s perception of their physiological state, which is called interoception, often does not match their physiological state. For instance, they might feel as though their heart is racing, but it is not. This inconsistency is a characteristic of GAD.

The authors of the new study hope that identifying why there is a disconnect between interoception and physiology might “provide novel targets for treatments.”