Anxiety disorders are more common in women than men - for reasons scientists don't yet fully understand. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that prolonged anxiety disorders are a serious health problem with potentially life-threatening consequences.
A recent study by researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston found that chronic panic, phobia and other anxiety disorders may actually shorten a woman's life span by as much as six years.
The researchers, whose work is reported online in the journal PLos ONE, found that women with the most severe anxiety had shorter telomeres, the sequences at the end of each chromosome. Other studies have shown similar DNA damage is linked to cancer, heart disease and cognitive decline. It isn't reversible.
The study isn't the final word on this issue but it does reinforce the importance of getting help if you are suffering from an anxiety disorder. Medication is often useful as is cognitive behavioral therapy, which can give you techniques to beat back phobias or panic.
For more information, you can download this free booklet from the National Institute of Mental Health.