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Gender Differences in the Epidemiology and Treatment of Anxiety Disorders

Teresa A. Pigott, MD

Published: June 1, 1999

Article Abstract

Women are more likely than men to develop anxiety disorders. Yet, relatively few studies have investigated whether women with anxiety disorders have characteristics that are distinct from those of men with the same disorders. The cause of the enhanced vulnerability to anxiety for women remains largely undetermined. Recent data suggest that female reproductive hormones and related cycles may play an important role. In addition to etiologic functions, reproductive hormones may substantially influence the clinical course of preexisting anxiety conditions in women. Psychotropic medications are more likely to be prescribed to women, and gender differences have been identified in the pharmacokinetics of psychotropic medication. Yet, relatively few systematic data are available concerning the potential clinical relevance or possible treatment implications of gender differences in the treatment of women with anxiety disorders. This article reviews the unique characteristics of primary anxiety disorders in women, summarizes the neurobiological effects associated with estrogen and progesterone, discusses gender differences in medication metabolism and the potential relevance of these differences in the pharmacologic management of women with anxiety disorders, and reviews issues specific to women (e.g., hormone therapy, oral contraceptives, menstrual cycle, pregnancy, lactation) that may impact treatment with psychotropic medication.

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