Behavioral Health

When worry is excessive: Easing the burden of GAD

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Continue treatment for 12 months to reduce the risk of recurrence.23 If response to treatment is insufficient after 2 adequate trials of an SSRI or SNRI, consider second-line agents such as azapirones or benzodiazepines for adults, keeping in mind the risk for dependence with benzodiazepines.13

Evidence supports GABAergic drugs such as gabapentin and pregabalin as off-label treatments for GAD in refractory adult cases.25 In the European Union, pregabalin is approved for use in GAD. Caution is recommended with both drugs due to abuse potential. Next steps for an inadequate response should include referral to Psychiatry or for inpatient care when risk of harm to self or others is high.


Considering Ms. H’s ability to work and complete daily activities, we talked to her about CBT as a first step and referred her to a therapist in the community. One month after her initial visit with us, Ms. H returned for a follow-up visit and scored a 17 on her GAD-7, still in the severe range. After one CBT session, she had cancelled her second and third appointments due to work conflicts. She had missed some work from oversleeping after worried sleepless nights. Her worries concerned friendships, paying bills, physical appearance, not being able to exercise and therefore gaining weight, and troubles at work and with her mother. She also described several episodes of nightmares after breaking up with a boyfriend.

To minimize the anxiety-producing effects of SSRIs and SNRIs, consider starting treatment at a lower dose and titrate upward more gradually than when treating depression.

She agreed to try an SSRI, and we started her on fluoxetine 10 mg/d. We counseled her on SSRI risks and benefits, including the potential for increased suicidal ideation and how to respond if such thoughts developed. Three weeks after starting fluoxetine, Ms. H reported improvement with no adverse effects from the medication, except for decreased appetite and some weight loss, which she welcomed. She had registered for college courses, and her third score on the GAD-7 was an 8.

We increased her fluoxetine dose to 20 mg/d for maintenance. We encouraged her to return to her therapist for CBT and she scheduled that appointment. Therapy records noted a GAD-7 score of 5 at follow-up 8 weeks later. Ms. H reported improved sleep, reduced irritability at home, and better relationships with her mother and friends. She had begun college classes and was writing about her thoughts and worries as part of her CBT homework. She continued follow-up appointments with both her family physician and her therapist.

Christopher A. Ebberwein, PhD, Wesley Family Medicine Residency, 850 North Hillside, Wichita, KS 67214; chris. [email protected].


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