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Keywords:

  • anxiety disorders;
  • children;
  • classification;
  • diagnosis;
  • diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders;
  • DSM-5

Background

A current proposal for the DSM-5 general anxiety disorder (GAD) definition is to remove fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and sleep disturbance from the list of associated symptoms, and to require the presence of one of two retained symptoms (restlessness or muscle tension) for diagnosis. Relevant evaluations in youth to support such a change are sparse.

Methods

The present study evaluated patterns and correlates of the DSM-IV GAD associated symptoms in a large outpatient sample of anxious youth (N = 650) to empirically consider how the proposed diagnostic change might impact the prevalence and sample composition of GAD in children.

Results

Logistic regression found irritability to be the most associated, and restlessness to be the least associated, with GAD diagnosis. Fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and sleep disturbances—which have each been suggested to be nonspecific to GAD due to their prevalence in depression—showed sizable associations with GAD even after accounting for depression and attention problems. Among GAD youth, 10.9% would not meet the proposed DSM-5 associated symptoms criterion. These children were comparable to GAD youth who would meet the proposed criteria with regard to clinical severity, symptomatology, and functioning.

Conclusions

A substantial proportion of youth with excessive, clinically impairing worry may be left unclassified by the DSM-5 if the proposed GAD associated symptoms criterion is adopted. Despite support for the proposed criterion change in adult samples, the present findings suggest that in children it may increase the false negative rate. This calls into question whether the proposed associated symptoms criterion is optimal for defining childhood GAD.