General Health

Understanding female anxiety disorders

Anxiety is a normal response to stress, which helps an individual stay alert and push efforts for challenging situations, study harder for exams, or to remain focused while delivering a speech. In general, it helps you cope. However, anxiety could be disabling if it becomes difficult to control and affects routine activities.

Anxiety disorders affect nearly one in five adults in the United States (US). Importantly, the risk of anxiety disorders is double in women compared to men. Moreover, eight percent of teenagers aged between 13 years and 18 years have been diagnosed with anxiety disorders with symptoms beginning at around six years of age. GAD affects more American Indians/Native Alaskan and White and Hispanic women than women of other ethnicities.

Anxiety develops when an individual feels nervous, fearful or worrisome regarding a situation or an event. Disabling levels of anxiety could make you dread everyday activities such as going to school or your workplace or talking to coworkers, friends and family. Anxiety attacks could involve sudden terror attacks in absence of any threat.

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Causes, signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders

Researchers have suggested that the etiology of anxiety disorders is multifactorial and includes hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle, genetics and the occurrence of traumatic events such as experiencing an attack, abuse, sexual assault etc.

Women with anxiety disorders develop behavioural changes and try to avoid day-to-day activities which they performed earlier. Each anxiety disorder has different symptoms; however common symptoms observed include weakness, shortness of breath, tachycardia or increased heart rate, nausea, stomach upset, hot flashes and dizziness.

Types of anxiety disorders

  1. Generalized anxiety disorders (GAD). People with GAD excessively worry about everyday issues, such as money, work, family and health. Such individuals consider the worst-case scenario and could be anxious throughout the day with increased muscle tension and other stress-related clinical symptoms, such as sleeping difficulties or stomach upset.
  2. Panic disorders. People with panic disorders have sudden terror attacks in absence of actual threat causing a sense of unreality and fear of impending doom or loss of control. Such individuals often believe they are losing their minds, dying or having heart attacks.
  3. Social phobia or social anxiety disorders. Individuals with social anxiety become very self-conscious in social gatherings and have a strong fear of being judged by others.
  4. Specific phobia. Intense fear of something that actually poses little or no danger and includes fears of heights, closed spaces, animals, objects or particular situations.

Diagnosis and treatment of anxiety disorders

Treatment for anxiety disorders are advised by mental health professionals depending on the type of anxiety disorder and personal history of medical disorders, abuse or violence. Treatment approaches include counselling (or psychotherapy), medications, combinational therapy involving counselling sessions and medications, and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

CBT can help you alter the pattern of thinking. Anti-anxiety medicines include benzodiazepines, beta-blockers, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), tricyclic antidepressants and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). Relaxation therapies such as yoga and meditation may help in reducing anxiety.

Anxiety disorders may be associated with depression and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and are more common in women with chronic pain disorders such as migraine, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular diseases, asthma and fibromyalgia.

Author

Pooja Toshniwal Paharia

Dr. Pooja Toshniwal Paharia is a Consultant Oral and Maxillofacial Physician and Radiologist, M.DS (Oral Medicine and Radiology) from Mumbai. She strongly believes in evidence-based radiodiagnosis and therapeutic regimens for benign, potentially malignant, or malignant lesions and conditions either arising from the oral and maxillofacial structures or manifesting in the associated regions.

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