Brain Facts

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Anxiety disorders - Biochemical & Genetic Factors

Anxiety disorders are most likely caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors. Most people with these disorders seem to have a biological vulnerability to stress, making them more susceptible to environmental stimuli than the rest of the population.

Biochemical Factors

Studies suggest that an imbalance of certain neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain) may contribute to anxiety disorders. The neurotransmitters targeted in anxiety disorders are gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), serotonin, dopamine, and epinephrine. Serotonin appears to be specifically important in feelings of well being, and deficiencies are highly related to anxiety and depression. Stress hormones such as cortisol also play a role.

Genetic Factors

Up to 50% of people with panic disorder and 40% of patients with generalized anxiety (GAD) have close relatives with the disorder.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is also strongly related to a family history of the disorder. Close relatives of people with OCD are up to 9 times more likely to develop OCD themselves. Researchers are making progress in identifying specific genetic factors that might contribute to an inherited risk. Of particular interest are genes that regulate the neurotransmitters associated with serotonin and glutamate.

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