Women and anxiety disorders: Implications for diagnosis and treatment
Community studies indicate that 19% of men and 31% of women will develop some type of anxiety disorder during their lifetime. The impact of gender is profound in that it increases the likelihood of developing an anxiety disorder by 85% in women compared to men. Sex difference in prevalence rates are apparent as early as age 6, when girls are twice as likely as boys to have an anxiety disorder. In the National Comorbidity Survey, the prevalence rates for panic disorder in women and men were 5% and 2%, respectively. Agoraphobia, which often coexists with panic disorder, has a lifetime prevalence rate of 7% in women and 3.5% in men. Prevalence of trauma is increased in young women as well, and is experienced earlier in life; 62% of sexual assaults are inflicted on females < or = 18 years of age, and 29% occur in children < 11 years of age. Comorbidity of anxiety in women complicates other medical conditions as well. For example, panic disorder is highly comorbid with CHD, which remains the leading cause of death in women in developed countries. Fluctuations in reproductive hormone levels during the female life cycle is thought to be responsible for modulating anxiety. This is often implicated in the later age of onset, the more sudden and acute symptom emergence, and the more episodic course of OCD in women, and in the high prevalence(47.4%) of PMDD. Pregnancy appears to be a protective period for some anxiety disorders, including panic, while for others, such as OCD, it may be associated with onset. Hormonal changes during pregnancy, such as increased prolactin, oxytocin, and cortisol, may contribute to the suppression of stress response that occurs during this period. Despite a large and growing body of literature on anxiety disorders in general, the available data relating to women and girls falls short of informing aspects of diagnosis, treatment, and prevention that may entail sex differences. Additional work is required to understand the biological and psychosocial causes of these differences.