Is Anxiety Hereditary?


Can anxiety related issues be passed on from our parents or is it largely a psychological issue?

1 in 10 people suffer from anxiety related issues

It is estimated that more than one in ten people suffer from some form of anxiety disorder. New evidence of hereditary / genetic links to anxiety could pave the way for a new set of anxiety treatments to compliment the current psychology and psychiatric  based treatments.

So can anxiety really be hereditary? This is a common question and up until the late 1990's the answer would have been that it is unlikely that anxiety is hereditary / genetic, buy cialisbuy cialis viagra saleviagra sale with most research focussing on psychotropic and psychological causes and treatments.

Evidence of genetic / hereditary links with anxiety

However a number of recent studies have overturned this thinking and there is now some good evidence to suggest that in certain circumstances there may be hereditary / genetic predispositions to anxiety related issues.

  1. A 2008 paper reported on research that tracked individuals from 12 multigenerational families exposed to a massive earthquake in Armenia in 1988 found that 41% of the variation of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms was due to genetic factors and that 61% of the variation of depressive symptoms and 66% of anxiety symptoms were attributable to genetics. What makes this research unique is that normally most studies on concentrate on individuals. This study was able to track the susceptibility of whole families to PTSD, healthhealth anxiety and depression over an extended period of time, trochetroche all of who were in volved in the same traumatic event.
  2. A study published in 2009 by Phillip Gehrman, PhD, assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School Of Medicine strongly suggested genetic links between anxiety, depression and insomnia. This study examined insomnia patterns in young adults and found there was, a link between insomnia, anxiety and depression and that some of these links could be explained by genetic variations.
  3. Another study published in 2003 suggested that a genetic abnormality may help explain why some people are more prone to feelings of anxiety and aggression than others. Researchers from the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, found a Gene called SLC6A4 that may be a contributory (but small) factor in anxiety in certain individuals. The SLC6A4 gene is important in the transmission of the chemical serotonin around the brain and each parent passes either a short or a long version of this gene on to their offspring. The short version transports serotonin less efficiently, and people with one or two of these tend to show abnormal levels of anxiety.

So at the moment there is some evidence of genetics playing a part in some anxiety related conditions. However the evidence isn't completely clear and our best guess at the moment is that genetics can in certain circumstances play a role in anxiety related conditions. Our best guess at the moment is that the majority of anxiety related issues are psychological or medical with a very small number of anxiety issues being hereditary.

Links between Anxiety, Panic / Anxiety Attacks, Depression, PTSD, Insomnia

Not only is there a growing body of evidence of genetic / hereditary predispositions to anxiety, depression, PTSD, panic attacks  and insomnia these studies have also highlighted the close connections between these conditions. In other words people who have a tendancy to suffer from one of these are at a hiher risk from the other conditions than the rest of the population.

How much of my Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Depression, PTSD or Insomnia is hereditary?

From the research evidence it could range from none to about 60%. As stated above, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that if you suffer from one of these conditions you are at a higher risk of getting the others. This is the case whether your condition has a genetic element or not.

It is impossible to tell if an individual's anxiety has a hereditary component without extensive testing. However if there is a history of anxiety in a family there are two possible explanations:

  1. Genetic predisposition, and/or
  2. Psychogenic Effects - a psychological mirroring of anxiety where we 'catch' anxiety or panic from other people who are close to us. In effect it is a learned condition.

On the balance of probabilities it is most likely that both genetic and psychogenic effects work together, where there is evidence of a family history of anxiety, depression or PTSD, however it could also just be psychogenic.



Hendricks, T.J. etal (2003) Pet-1 ETS Gene Plays a Critical Role in 5-HT Neuron Development and Is Required for Normal Anxiety-like and Aggressive Behavior. Neuron, Volume 37, Issue 2, 233-247, 23 January 2003

Gehrman, P., etal (2009)  Heritability of Insomnia in adolescents: how much is just depression and anxiety? Abstract presented on June 8, at SLEEP 2009, the 23rd Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.

Goenjian, A.K. et al (2008) Heritabilities of symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression in earthquake exposed Armenian families. Psychiatric Genetics. 18(6):261-266, December 2008.

Murphy, D.L. etal (2008) How the serotonin story is being rewritten by new gene-based discoveries principally related to SLC6A4, the serotonin transporter gene, which functions to influence all cellular serotonin systems. Neuropharmacology 55 (2008) 932–960


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