Anxiety Disorders; Facts to Know

According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA), an estimated 40 million Americans experience anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric condition in the U.S., costing an estimated $42 billion per year.

Without treatment, an anxiety disorder can significantly disrupt your life as you may be tormented by panic attacks, irrational thoughts and fears, compulsive behaviors or rituals, flashbacks, nightmares or countless frightening physical symptoms. Yet, because of widespread lack of understanding and the stigma associated with these disorders, only about one third of those who experience this problem is diagnosed and receives treatment.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) affects about 6.8 million Americans and is characterized by at least six months of a more or less constant state of tension or worry not related to any event.

Panic disorder affects about 2.7 percent of the U.S. population, or 6 million people. It typically strikes in young adulthood–before age 24 in roughly half of cases. Women are twice as likely as men to develop panic disorder. People with panic disorder may also suffer from depression; in addition, 30 percent of those with panic disorder abuse alcohol and 17 percent abuse drugs such as cocaine and marijuana. About one-third of people with panic disorder develop agoraphobia, an illness in which they become afraid of being in any place or situation where escape might be difficult or help unavailable in the event of a panic attack.

About 6.8 percent of Americans or 15 million people, have social phobias. Social phobia occurs in women twice as often as in men, although a higher proportion of men seek help for this disorder. The disorder typically begins in childhood or early adolescence and rarely develops after age 25.

About one percent of the U.S. population, approximately 2.2 million Americans, has obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD affects men and women with equal frequency.

About 3.5 percent of the population, or 7 million people in the U.S., suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Trauma such as a rape, childhood sexual abuse, military combat or war-related incidents, and natural disasters during which a person experienced intense fear, helplessness and horror are common causes. Having a pre-existing emotional disorder most often predicts PTSD in women. PTSD can develop at any age, including childhood. Depression, alcohol or other substance abuse, or another anxiety disorder often accompanies PTSD. Rape is the most common trigger of PTSD–65 percent of men and 45.9 percent of women who are raped develop the disorder.

While anxiety disorders can strike men or women of any or socioeconomic background, they most often begin in young adulthood–beginning mildly and progressing–though GAD appears to be the most common form of anxiety at older ages. In addition, except for OCD, they strike women at twice the rate of men. A woman’s hormonal cycle may affect her anxiety disorder, with symptoms getting worse premenstrually.

Anxiety attacks can mimic or accompany nearly every acute disorder of the heart or lungs, including heart attacks and angina. Asthma attacks and panic attacks have similar symptoms and can also coexist. In addition, anxiety-like symptoms are seen in many other medical problems, including epilepsy, hypoglycemia, adrenal-gland tumors and hyperthyroidism. Women can also experience intense anxiety attacks with hot flashes during menopause. Many drugs, including some for high blood pressure, diabetes, and thyroid disorders, can produce symptoms of anxiety.

Fortunately, treatment for anxiety disorders is, in general, very effective. Early identification and treatment of an anxiety disorder may help you recover more easily and prevent depression. Treatments for anxiety disorders vary, with therapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and medication, used. Often the most effective approach for most anxiety disorders is a combination of the two.


“Anxiety Disorders.” National Institute of Mental Health, Reprinted 2002. Accessed Nov. 2003.

“Anxiety Disorders Information.” Anxiety Disorders Association of America. Copyright 2003. Accessed Nov. 2003.

“Anxiety Disorders & Treatments” Mental Health Net, Accessed Sept. 2001.

“Brief overview of anxiety disorders.” Anxiety Disorders Association of America. Accessed August 2006.

“Statistics and Facts About Anxiety Disorders.” The Anxiety Disorders Association of America. Accessed August 2006.

“Medications.” The Anxiety Disorders Association of America. October 2004. Accessed August 2006.

“Facts about panic disorder.” The National Institute of Mental Health. February 2006. Accessed August 2006.

Keywords: anxiety disorder, anxiety disorders, anxiety, panic disorder, panic attacks, facts to know, women, anxiety attacks

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