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Panic Disorders in Women
Panic disorders are anxiety-based mental health conditions that produce panicked emotional states in situations that the average person would find harmless. Doctors can diagnose two of these conditions: panic attack and panic disorder. For reasons that aren’t fully understood, women develop panic-based illnesses much more often than men. In addition, they tend to develop more severe forms of these illnesses. Due to these facts, affected women may want to consider seeking gender-specific treatment at women’s health retreats.
Essentials of Panic Disorders
Panic is an extreme mental state marked by a range of physical and emotional/psychological symptoms. Common examples of these symptoms include:
- Intense fright that appears out of nowhere
- Shortness of breath
- A sense of being smothered
- Chest tightness and pain
- A racing or pounding heartbeat
- Unusual sensations of hot or cold
- Dread of losing self-control, and
- Dread of dying in the very near future
Together, these symptoms create what’s known as a panic attack. Some attacks only last for a couple of minutes, while others may last upward of 10 minutes or more. In isolated cases, panic attacks have been known to last for an hour or even longer. No affected person can tell exactly when a panic episode will occur. If you experience repeated bouts of your symptoms, your doctor may diagnose you with panic disorder. People affected by panic attacks or panic disorder sometimes also experience symptoms of another, separately diagnosable anxiety disorder called agoraphobia.
Prevalence in Women
Women develop panic disorder (recurring panic attacks) anywhere from 100% to 150% more often than men. If you’re a woman, your chances of developing the condition remain fairly constant as you transition from early adulthood to middle age. In stark contrast, risks for men (which are already lower than those for women) decline significantly over the same span of time.
Severity of Symptoms
Men and women affected by panic disorders generally develop the same types of symptoms. However, women have a significantly greater chance of experiencing several specific symptoms, and therefore tend to experience more severe bouts of panic. Examples of the problems that appear more often in women include:
- Shortness of breath, and
- A sense of being smothered
Doctors who treat their patients in women’s health retreats and other settings must be aware that women tend to have more serious panic-related issues than men.
Why Are Women More Heavily Affected?
Although no one knows exactly why women develop panic disorders more often than men and experience more severe forms of these disorders, researchers have uncovered a couple of potential explanations. The first of these explanations is hormonal. During the premenstrual phase of the menstrual cycle, women undergo changes in their hormone levels that may make panic symptoms more likely to occur. These same changes may also help explain why women affected by panic disorder tend to develop specific symptoms more often than men.
The second potential explanation is biochemical. Essentially, women may have increased risks for panic disorders as a result of relatively low levels of serotonin, a brain and body chemical that plays a major role in mood regulation. Lack of this chemical may increase baseline stress levels, which in turn may lead to easier triggering of a panicked mental state. Some research indicates that hormonal factors and biochemical factors may overlap. In addition, two other problems may help explain women’s high risks: low vitamin B6 levels and low levels of the mineral iron. Doctors who work in women’s health retreats and other treatment settings may need to run tests to verify the presence or absence of these problems.
National Institute of Mental Health: Panic Disorder – When Fear Overwhelms https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/panic-disorder-when-fear-overwhelms/index.shtml
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Office on Women’s Health: Panic Disorder https://www.womenshealth.gov/mental-health/illnesses/panic-disorder.html
Psychiatric Times: Gender Differences in Panic Disorder http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/articles/gender-differences-panic-disorder
University Health News Daily: 3 Causes of Panic Attacks and Signs of Anxiety in Women http://universityhealthnews.com/daily/stress-anxiety/panic-attacks-and-other-signs-of-anxiety-in-women/