This guidance updates and replaces NICE clinical guideline 22 (published December 2004; amended April 2007).

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is one of a range of anxiety disorders that includes panic disorder (with and without agoraphobia), post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessiveā€“compulsive disorder, social phobia, specific phobias (for example, of spiders) and acute stress disorder. Anxiety disorders can exist in isolation but more commonly occur with other anxiety and depressive disorders. This guideline covers both 'pure' GAD, in which no comorbidities are present, and the more typical presentation of GAD comorbid with other anxiety and depressive disorders in which GAD is the primary diagnosis. NICE is developing a guideline on case identification and referral for common mental health disorders that will provide further guidance on the identification and treatment of comorbid conditions[1].

GAD is a common disorder, of which the central feature is excessive worry about a number of different events associated with heightened tension. A formal diagnosis using the DSM-IV classification system requires two major symptoms (excessive anxiety and worry about a number of events and activities, and difficulty controlling the worry) and three or more additional symptoms from a list of six[2]. Symptoms should be present for at least 6 months and should cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning.

According to the DSM-IV-TR[3], a fundamental characteristic of panic disorder is the presence of recurring, unforeseen panic attacks followed by at least 1 month of persistent worry about having another panic attack and concern about the consequences of a panic attack, or a significant change in behaviour related to the attacks. At least two unexpected panic attacks are necessary for diagnosis and the attacks should not be accounted for by the use of a substance, a general medical condition or another psychological problem. Panic disorder can be diagnosed with or without agoraphobia.

GAD and panic disorder vary in severity and complexity and this has implications for response to treatment. Therefore it is important to consider symptom severity, duration, degree of distress, functional impairment, personal history and comorbidities when undertaking a diagnostic assessment.

GAD and panic disorder can follow both chronic and remitting courses. Where possible, the goal of an intervention should be complete relief of symptoms (remission), which is associated with better functioning and a lower likelihood of relapse.

The guideline assumes that prescribers will use a drug's summary of product characteristics (SPC) to inform their decisions made with individual service users.

This guideline recommends some drugs for indications for which they do not have a UK marketing authorisation at the date of publication, if there is good evidence to support that use. Where recommendations have been made for the use of drugs outside their licensed indications ('off-label use'), this is indicated in the recommendation or in a footnote.

New and updated recommendations are included on the management of generalised anxiety disorder in adults.

Recommendations are marked [2004], [2004, amended 2011], [new 2011], [2011, amended 2018] or [2018]

[2004] indicates that the evidence has not been updated and reviewed since 2004.

[2004, amended 2011] indicates that the evidence has not been updated and reviewed since 2004 but a small amendment has been made to the recommendation.

[new 2011] indicates that the evidence has been reviewed and the recommendation has been updated or added.

[2011, amended 2018] or [2018] indicates the recommendation was amended in the June 2018 update to bring it in line with current best practice or other NICE guidance, or added to give a link to existing guidance.

[2] American Psychiatric Association (1994) Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (fourth edition). Washington DC: American Psychiatric Association. This guideline uses DSM-IV criteria because the evidence for treatments is largely based on this system.

[3] American Psychiatric Association (2000) Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (fourth edition, text revision). Washington DC: American Psychiatric Association.

  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)