Anxiety and Panic More Common in Women
by Jennifer Wider, MD
(Washington DC, May 5,
2005): Some people get nervous in crowded spaces. Some avoid airplanes, bridges
or tunnels at all costs. Others cling to the confines of their own home. Whether
it is panic attacks, flashbacks of stressful events or obsessive thoughts,
these people share one thing in common: anxiety.
As a group, anxiety disorders
are the most common mental illness in the United States. According to the
National Institute of Mental Health, more than nineteen million Americans
face anxiety disorders each year. And women are more vulnerable to most types
of anxiety disorders than men.
"A greater risk for anxiety
exists in females and this is especially apparent in the transition from childhood
to early adulthood," explains Kamila S. White, Ph.D., director of the behavioral
medicine program at the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders at Boston
There are many possible
reasons for this gender disparity. Numerous studies have listed genetic, hormonal,
environmental and social factors among potential causes.
"Some data suggests that
females experience more traumatic events than males," White said, which could
make them more vulnerable to anxiety. "There is also some research showing
that women tend to be more attentive to threatening stimuli."
Differences in parenting
and gender behaviors for boys and girls may play a role as well. "Girls tend
to be reinforced for empathy and less assertiveness," White points out, "while
boys tend to be reinforced for more assertive, active and independent behavior."
These social reinforcements may render women more susceptible to anxiety disorders.
There are many different
types of anxiety disorders which include specific phobias, panic disorder,
obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
and generalized anxiety disorder.
More than three million
Americans suffer from panic disorder and two-thirds are women. Panic disorder
is characterized by repeated episodes of intense anxiety and fear that manifest
in physical and emotional symptoms including a rapid heartbeat, shortness
of breath, dizziness, tingling in hands and feet, chest pain and a fear of
Despite the prevalence
of these disorders, some women find it extremely difficult to obtain a proper
diagnosis. In the book "Overcoming Panic Disorder: A Woman's Guide," authors
Lorna Weinstock and Eleanor Gilman examine why women who suffer from panic
disorder are often misdiagnosed. "Panic disorder frequently mimics physical
ailments," they write, "in fact, it is considered one of medicine's greatest
People with panic disorder
often spend time, energy and money in hospital emergency rooms or consulting
physicians in an attempt to uncover the cause of their symptoms. Because it
may be difficult to differentiate between the symptoms of panic disorder and
other serious ailments, including heart disease, women and their physicians
need to keep panic disorder on their radar screen.
Anxiety disorders are often
treated with a combination of medication and specific forms of psychotherapy.
"All good therapists should tailor treatments to the individual patient,"
White said. "Data support that cognitive behavioral therapies work equally
well for men and women."
It is not uncommon for
a person who suffers from anxiety to have another psychological ailment. Anxiety
disorders frequently coexist with substance abuse, eating disorders and depression.
Anxiety disorders can coexist with each other as well. A person who has panic
attacks, for example, is more likely to be diagnosed with another anxiety
disorder. Therefore, physicians need to be aware of this fact and work effectively
to diagnose and treat each ailment a patient may have.
For more information on anxiety and depression, click here.
© March 31, 2005 Society for Women's Health Research
The Society for Women's
Health Research is the nation's only not-for-profit organization
whose sole mission is to improve the health of women through research. Founded
in 1990, the Society brought to national attention the need for the appropriate
inclusion of women in major medical research studies and the resulting need
for more information about conditions affecting women. The Society advocates
increased funding for research on women's health, encourages the study of
sex differences that may affect the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of
disease, and promotes the inclusion of women in medical research studies.
Dr. Donnica Moore has been a member of the Society since 1990 and is a past
member of its Board of Directors.
National Institute of Mental Health, Facts about Anxiety
Weinstock L, Gilman E. Overcoming Panic Disorder: A Woman's
Guide. Contemporary Books, Chicago, 1998.
Created: 5/5/2005  - Donnica Moore, M.D.