September 2017
In This Issue
Anxiety Disorders

Institute Happenings
Funding Announcement
Registration and Abstract Submission

Upcoming Events 
  Recent Blogs 
Dear Friends,

Did you know that women are 2 times more likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder compared to men? In this issue, we will explore the biology behind anxiety disorders and take a closer look at several disorders which significantly impact women.

In addition, we have a large number of announcements featured in the Institute Happenings section this month, so be sure to check out the latest news from the WHRI! 
Nicole C. Woitowich, PhD
Director of Science Outreach and Education 
Women, Anxiety, and Fear
The Biology of Fear

It may surprise you to learn that worry, anxiety, and fear are actually a normal part of our behavior. All organisms, including humans, must be able to respond to the environment in order to survive. This includes being able to quickly respond to threats such as predators, harmful substances, or dangerous situations. Unlike our primitive ancestors, we no longer have to worry about being eaten by other animals – yet, the regions of our brain which regulate our response to fear remain relatively unchanged. When we become frightened, this triggers a cascade of pathways within our nervous system known as the “fight or flight” response. Our heart rate rises, we become hyperaware of our surroundings, and more oxygen is delivered to our muscles so we can rapidly freeze, escape, or attack. Once we are no longer in danger or the threat has passed, the fight or flight response turns off.

While fear in and of itself is beneficial for our survival, sometimes our ability to process fear or distinguish real from perceived threats becomes impaired. Anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder or other phobias are examples of health issues related to fear-processing. For example, objects or situations, which are typically seen as non-threatening or non-harmful to most people can cause extreme panic or worry for someone with an anxiety disorder.

Approximately 18% of adults within the United States live with an anxiety disorder [1]. However, women are significantly more likely to develop an anxiety disorder, throughout their lifetime, as compared to men [2]. By the numbers, 1 in 3 women will meet the criteria for having an anxiety disorder at some point in their life [2]. Yet, while we know women are significantly affected by anxiety disorders, less is known as to why. Some research suggests that the regions of the brain which control our ability to process fear may respond differently to sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone [Reviewed in 3]. Hopefully, additional studies which examine how sex influences anxiety may lead to sex-specific treatments that can reduce the burden of disease in women. 

Below we will review several types of anxiety disorders:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Lifetime prevalence 7.7% female vs. 4.1% male

Individuals with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) experience excessive worry, often for long periods at a time. People with GAD may have fears or worries related to their everyday life such as health, finances, employment, or relationships. The excessive worry which accompanies GAD can be physically taxing and may cause symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, fatigue, or sleep-related issues. 

For more information on GAD, click here .

Panic Disorder
Lifetime prevalence 7.1% female vs. 4.0% male

As we learned earlier, the fight or flight response occurs when we become frightened. Panic attacks, the hallmark symptom of panic disorder, occur when the fight or flight response is triggered inappropriately. Panic attacks are characterized by feelings of intense fear or impending doom and can manifest with physical symptoms such as a racing heart, dizziness, stomach ache, chest tightness, or trouble breathing. They occur when a person is in no real danger, which can be one of the most frustrating aspects to those who suffer from this disorder, as it is difficult to predict when or where another may occur. In addition, the physical symptoms of a panic attack can mimic those of several life-threatening conditions. So, it is incredibly important to seek medical care and discuss these issues with a healthcare professional.

For more information on panic disorder, click here

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
Lifetime prevalence 8.5% female vs. 3.4% male

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can arise after experiencing a particularly shocking, dangerous, or frightening event. While we are most familiar with PTSD in the context of war and physical or sexual abuse, PTSD can occur after other events such as the death of a loved one, a car accident, or a natural disaster. Individuals with PTSD may experience flashbacks to the event, bad dreams, or unpleasant thoughts. They may avoid events, places, or objects associated with the event. Also, individuals who suffer from PTSD may be hyper-aware of their surroundings, feel tense or “on edge,” or experience other mood and cognitive changes.

For more information on PTSD, click here.
Specific Phobias
Lifetime prevalence 16.1% female vs. 9.0% male

Specific phobias are an intense fear of something that is unlikely to cause any real danger. Examples of phobias include animals (insects, dogs), the environment (heights, storms), or situations (flying, enclosed spaces). Individuals with phobias may try to avoid the feared object or situation. For example, an individual who is afraid spiders may avoid places where spiders live or make an effort to reduce the likelihood of encountering a spider. Phobias can cause a range of distress from mild discomfort to incredibly debilitating. This often depends on the individual, the phobia, and its occurrence in everyday life.

For more information on specific phobias, click here.
2. McLean et al., J Psychiatr Res. 2011; 45(8): 1027–1035.
3. Maeng and Milad. Horm Behav. 2015 Nov; 76: 106–117.
Institute Happenings
WHRI Director, Dr. Teresa Woodruff was recently appointed dean of The Graduate School and associate provost for graduate education at Northwestern, effective September 1st. She will continue to serve as Director for the WHRI and looks forward to promoting sex-inclusive research and education on a broader scale.
The Women’s Health Research Institute will host the 2 nd Annual Symposium on Sex Inclusion in Biomedical Research on January 25th, 2018 . The event coincides with the 2 nd  anniversary of the landmark NIH policy which requires investigators to consider sex as a biological variable. The theme of this year’s symposium is “A Spotlight On Autoimmunity,” and will feature exciting lectures from national experts in sex-based immunology. In addition to an outstanding lecture series, the symposium will feature a panel discussion on the state of sex-inclusive science, invited abstract presentations, and a poster session highlighting the work of members of the Northwestern University community. To register for the symposium or to submit an abstract visit: .
The WHRI is now accepting applications for the Shaw Family Pioneer Awards.

Two awards of $12,000 in direct costs will be granted to research or tenure-line faculty members. Proposals must be directly relevant to sex-inclusive research, focusing on sex-based determinants of health and disease. For more information and to access the application, please visit our website at click here.  
Upcoming Events 

Tuesday, September 19th: Monthly Women's Health Research Forum
Metabolic Syndrome in Women: Why It Matters to Cardiologists 

 Patricia Vassallo, MD
Assistant Professor of Medicine (Cardiology)
Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University
12:00PM to 1:00PM
Prentice Women's Hospital
250 E. Superior Street
3rd Floor Conference Room L South

This continuing nursing education activity has been approved for 1.0 contact hour by the Ohio Nurses Association (OBN-001-91), an accredited approver of continuing nursing education by the American Nurses Credentialing Center's Commission on Accreditation. Approval valid through 8/11/2019 - ONA Approval #21013, ONA-CE Assigned Approval Number
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