Anxiety Disorders In Women
We expect anxiety in children around the country tonight night after
stories of spooks and goblins, with costumes to match and scary lit pumpkins
shining from the shadows. But for nearly 19 million of grown adults,
anxiety is a constant problem. When people generally think of a common
mental illness in women with potentially serious consequences, they think of
depression. But anxiety disorders are even more common than depressive
disorders; in fact, anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric illnesses
affecting both children and adults. Even more surprising is that having an
anxiety disorder can also precipitate suicidal thoughts, feelings, attempts
and even completed suicides. Those who are affected should seek medical
care and their loved ones should encourage and support them.
Anxiety disorders are at least twice as common in women as they are in men.
Their cause is usually unknown, but risk factors include genetics, brain chemistry,
personality, and life events. There are basically six different categories:
generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic
disorder, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social phobias, specific phobias.
- GAD is characterized by one or more excessive or unrealistic worries
that last six months or more. Additional symptoms may include trembling,
muscle aches, insomnia, abdominal upsets, dizziness, and irritability.
- OCD is typified by the television character "Monk": individuals
with OCD have persistent, recurring thoughts or obsessions representing exaggerated
anxiety or fears. These obsessions may lead to performing involuntary, repeated
rituals or routines called compulsions.
- Panic disorder is characterized by severe panic attacks for no apparent
reason. These may resemble symptoms of a heart attack with palpitations,
chest pain, sweating, trembling, tingling sensations, feeling of choking, or
of not being able to breath. Other hallmarks include a fear of dying, fear
of losing control, and feelings of unreality. Panic disorder often occurs
with agoraphobia, in which people become afraid of having a panic attack in
a public place or one from which escape would be difficult; as a result, they
avoid these places.
- PTSD classically follows a personal or virtual exposure (i.e. witnessing
it on television) to a traumatic event such as a sexual or physical assault,
witnessing a death, the unexpected death of a loved one, or experiencing a
disaster (e.g. witnessing the attacks of 9/11/01). The three main associated
symptoms associated are "reliving" the trauma such as in flashbacks
and nightmares; avoidance behaviors such as avoiding places related to the
trauma; and emotional numbing or detachment from others. In addition, physical
symptoms such difficulty sleeping, irritability or poor concentration are
- Social Anxiety Disorder or Social Phobias are characterized
by extreme anxiety about being judged by others or behaving in a way that
might cause embarrassment or ridicule; this intense anxiety may lead to avoidance
behaviors. Associated physical symptoms may include palpitations, faintness,
blushing and profuse sweating.
- Specific Phobias are characterized by an intense, uncontrollable
fear reaction to a specific object or situation (such as spiders, dogs, flying,
or heights) which is recognized as being irrational and excessive by the person
suffering from it. This inordinate fear or phobia can lead to avoiding common,
everyday situations or activities.
The good news is that when diagnosed properly, anxiety disorders are generally
treatable, with medicine and psychotherapy. The bad news is that only about
one-third of those suffering from an anxiety disorder receive treatment.
For more information about depression or other mental health issues, click
Created: 10/31/2003  - Donnica Moore, M.D.