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For the first time ever, a panel of top medical experts is recommending that providers screen all girls and women ages 13 and older for anxiety disorder as part of routine preventive care, including women who are pregnant or recently had a baby. This adds to recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics that pregnant and postpartum women receive regular screening for postpartum depression.
The recommendation from the Women's Preventive Services Initiative, a program of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that guides federal healthcare policy, means screening for anxiety in women will now be covered for free as part of preventive services under the Affordable Care Act. The goal is to detect anxiety disorder early so women can receive prompt treatment and don't have to suffer unnecessarily from what can be a debilitating condition, the panel said.
"The new recommendation has the potential to dramatically expand access to treatment for anxiety for our patients," advisory panel chair Kimberly Gregory said in a statement. "Ensuring that screening will be available without cost-sharing means more equitable care for women who are living with anxiety today."
Anxiety is the most common mental health problem, and women suffer from anxiety at almost twice the rate of men. Pregnant and postpartum women are at especially high risk for anxiety and depression. Reasons for the prevalence of anxiety in women and teenage girls may include hormonal changes, societal pressures (such as to be the perfect mother, or to look sexy while juggling three kids and a job), poor self-esteem, and experiencing sexual harassment and assault.
And let's not forget that the COVID-19 pandemic, along with widespread protests over racial injustice during the past few weeks, have left many people feeling more anxious than usual.
Symptoms of anxiety include:
- Feeling uncontrollably anxious all or most of the time
- Feeling worried (if you are pregnant you may worry about your baby)
- Feeling a sense of dread
- Inability to concentrate
Symptoms of panic attack include:
- Racing heartbeat
- Feeling of dread or fear of dying
- Chest pain or tightness
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling dizzy
There are several different types of anxiety disorder. Left untreated, anxiety can make it difficult to function and enjoy everyday life. Anxiety during pregnancy may also increase the risk of pregnancy complications and interfere with your baby's development, although more research is needed to confirm this.
Even though it's common, many girls and women with anxiety don't mention their symptoms to their doctor. Screening is just the first step in detecting anxiety disorder. If the initial screen suggests you suffer from anxiety, you'll be referred for a more in-depth evaluation. If that results in an anxiety diagnosis, your provider will work with you to determine the best treatment, which could include therapy or medications.
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