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Fast Facts on Social Anxiety Disorder

  • Social anxiety disorder-also called "social phobia"-is characterized by an intense fear of being scrutinized by other people in social or performance situations and of negative evaluation.

  • People who suffer from this condition literally become "sick with fear"; they are afraid to act in an embarrassing or humiliating way, causing them to completely avoid such situations or endure these situations with dread.

  • Anxiety-inducing situations may include public speaking, initiating or maintaining a conversation with strangers or people in authority, participating in meetings or classes and attending parties or dating.

  • Social anxiety disorder is the most common anxiety disorder (generalized anxiety disorder ranks second), affecting over 10 million Americans.

  • Social anxiety disorder affects up to 13.3 percent of the population at some point during their lifetime.

  • Social anxiety disorder usually begins during the mid-teens and often becomes progressively worse, frequently resulting in a lifelong condition.

  • Women develop social anxiety disorder at a higher rate than men.

  • Social anxiety disorder, like other mental illnesses, also appears to run in families.

  • Symptoms: rapid heartbeat, trembling, sweating, tense muscles, upset stomach and blushing.  In some cases, these symptoms may be severe enough to result in a panic attack.

  • Cause: unknown.  Some studies suggest that both biological and psychological factors may play a role.  There is evidence of serotonergic dysfunction in people who suffer from social anxiety disorder, as in people who suffer from other mood and anxiety disorders.

  • Clinical diagnosis: People are diagnosed with social anxiety disorder if the fear, avoidance or anxious anticipation of a social or performance situation causes marked distress or interferes significantly with their daily routines, job performance or social life.  The anxiety or avoidance of social situations typically leads to clinically significant impairment or reduced quality of life.

  • Diagnostic tests: There are several commonly used tools to diagnose the severity and/or measure the improvement of social anxiety disorder, including the Social Phobia Inventory (SPIN), the Clinical Global Impression Scale (CGI), The Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale (LSAS) and the Sheehan Disability Scale (SDS).

  • Treatment: supportive psychotherapy and medicine (most commonly the SSRI class of antidepressants).

  • Economic Impact: People with social anxiety disorder may drop out of school, lose their jobs and avoid seeking work due to difficulty interviewing for jobs. They tend to have trouble creating and maintaining friendships and romantic partnerships.  In addition, anxiety disorders cost the U.S. $42 billion in 1990 in direct and indirect costs.

Click here for more information about social anxiety disorder or other mental health issues.

Created: 12/16/2003  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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