Ten Causes of Panic Attacks

Ten Causes of Panic Attacks

Many different things can trigger a panic attack. Some people may have an underlying condition that makes them more susceptible to attacks, while others may experience them in response to a specific event or situation.

This page includes:

– panic attacks and women

– genes and panic

– what research teaches us about panic

– stress and panic

– fear and panic

-medical conditions and panic

Some people may also be more likely to experience panic attacks if they have a family history of anxiety or panic disorders. If you’re worried that you may be at risk for panic attacks, it’s important to talk to your doctor. They can help you identify any potential triggers and develop a plan to manage the

Panic attacks and causes in women

Panic disorder is twice as prevalent in women as it is in men.

1. Hormones

Some theories propose that hormones are more responsible for this greater number, some that women seek help more often so the numbers are skewed. We don’t know enough about the causes of panic to know the reason for this discrepancy.

Is there a specific gene that causes panic attacks?

2. Genetic vulnerability

There is no evidence that a specific gene causes panic attacks. Genetics will determine the color of your eyes with certainty, but panic does not work the same way.

Currently, we believe that a vulnerability to panic can be inherited and that if you engage in certain behaviors ( for example, avoidance) that vulnerability is exploited.

Many people with panic appear to have a genetic predisposition to it.

Why do we think this?

Research shows 5- 8 percent of the population has panic disorder, while 15-20 percent of first-degree relatives may develop panic disorder.

Research shows first-degree relatives of people with panic disorder are five times more likely to have the condition than first-degree relatives of controls If you have a panic disorder you are likely to have a relative who has it too!

Research teaches us other things about panic attacks. Panic attacks can be induced in labs by giving people:

  • infusions of sodium lactate (the same compound muscles release during strenuous exercise)
  • high concentrations of inhaled carbon dioxide,
  • other compounds that affect brain chemicals.

The search is constant to learn more and more about the biology of panic

3. Neurotransmitters and the brain as causes of panic attacks and panic disorder


Studies continue to suggest that neurotransmitters play a role in panic, and research focuses on how drugs impact them. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), serotonin, corticotropin-releasing factor, and norepinephrine are the main ones that are focused on. It may be that the neurochemicals that reduce anxiety are not available to people who have panic disorders.

Research also suggests the amygdala and the limbic system may also function differently for people who have panic disorder.

4. Stress as a contributing cause of panic

Stress influences the likelihood of the onset of panic disorder. If you are stressed, you are more likely to feel threatened, have reduced coping skills, and be prone to fear.

Stress influences the likelihood of the onset of panic disorder. When stressed, you are more likely to feel threatened, have reduced coping skills, and be prone to fear.

Stress makes it more likely you will default to your fight or flight reflexes.

Panic has its origins in fight or flight, so there is a strong connection between stress and panic.

5. Fear Response to your Body

If you change the way you think, feel, and act about your panic, you get better.

Many people who have panic attacks express fear of the physical symptoms they experience. For example, people are fearful that they will faint, throw up, have a heart attack, or otherwise be out of control and go crazy. These beliefs become a part of the panic chain and increase the likelihood that you will panic in the future. A person who has had a mild panic attack and does not respond fearfully may never go on to develop panic disorder.

People also will frequently report moving around because of an inability to bear panic attacks. Guess what? That makes it much worse. When you move around you are revving up your body in a way that will exacerbate your panic.

Your physical symptoms can’t hurt you as you will learn in these pages. It’s the way you think about and reacts to your physical symptoms that FUELS the panic. Panic attacks are a physiological reaction to fear when there is no real threat present. Understanding that can help you to react to your symptoms in a way that does not exacerbate the panic.

Learn about panic:

 6. Medical Conditions

Medical conditions can cause panic attacks and panic disorder. Panic has a strong physiological component in that a physical sensation can often trigger it. For this reason, certain medical conditions can exacerbate the likelihood that you will have panic disorder.

Here are some medical conditions that can cause panic attacks:

Other causes and contributors to panic disorder


8.Extreme temperature



10. Lack of Sleep or panic in your sleep

Are all of these really causes of panic disorder?

Yes……….and no. These kinds of situations can mimic the physiological sensations that you previously experienced during panic attacks. What people tend to do is avoid these things once they make the association. Remember avoidance is not good. It always serves to perpetuate and reinforce anxiety. Always!! In fact, treatment for panic may consist of exposing clients to these things and tolerating the physical symptoms. Which, remember, cannot hurt you!!

You can learn about CBT for panic disorder here.

From Treatments That Work: Mastery of your Anxiety and Panic Workbook. David Barlow and Michelle Craske.Oxford University Press


Panic: worry in the extreme. Harv Womens Health Watch. 2000 Aug;7(12):4-5. PMID: 10927661.


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /  FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Medical information obtained from this website is not intended as a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you have a problem, you should consult a healthcare provider.

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