What Causes Panic Attacks

The symptoms of panic attacks are scary.
Can you recognise them, and do you know what to do?

Often, there is no clear reason for what causes panic attacks...

In many cases, panic attacks strike out of the blue, without any warning. They may even occur when you’re relaxed or asleep.

panic attacks

I know how difficult it is to identify what causes panic attacks. I had the symptoms of a panic attack one evening when my children were still young. I was relaxed, calm and busy with the usual daily stuff...

Yet I started shaking. My chest tightened and I felt dizzy...

It was scary...

I only ever experienced that one panic attack, but many people experience repeat episodes. Recurrent panic attacks are often triggered by a specific situation, such as crossing the road or speaking in public – especially if that situation has caused a panic attack before. Usually, the situation is one in which you feel in danger and unable to escape.

Symptoms Of Panic Attacks

A panic attack is a sudden surge of overwhelming anxiety and fear. Your heart pounds and you can’t breathe. You feel dizzy and sick to your stomach. You may even feel like you’re dying or going crazy. The signs and symptoms of a panic attack can vary, and can even mimic a heart attack.

What Causes Panic Attacks?

  • The short answer is, panic attacks are caused by the activation of the "fight or flight" response in you, otherwise known as anxiety.

    So the underlying causes of panic attacks are usually nothing more than anxiety.

    Anxiety is defined as a state of fear, a reaction to a "threat." And it doesn't matter of the "threat" is real or imagined, the anxiety, panic attacks and accompanying symptoms can be equally severe. Anxiety, while uncomfortable, is rarely physically harmful. But remember that raised anxiety levels can, over time, contribute to very serious and even life-threatening illnesses.

  • Although the exact causes of panic attacks and panic disorder are unclear, the tendency to have panic attacks runs in families. However, many people who have no family history of the disorder develop it.
  • There also appears to be a connection with major life transitions such as graduating from college and entering the workplace, getting married, and having a baby. Severe stress, such as the death of a loved one, divorce, or job loss can also trigger a panic attack.
  • Panic attacks can also be caused by medical conditions and other physical causes. If you’re suffering from symptoms of panic, it’s important to see a doctor to rule out the possibilties of mitral valve prolapse, hyperthyroidism, hypoglycemia, stimulant use (amphetamines, cocaine, caffeine) or medication withdrawal.




You may experience one or more panic attacks, yet be otherwise perfectly happy and healthy. Also, what causes panic attacks for you may be part of another disorder, such as panic disorder, social phobia, or depression. Regardless of the cause, panic is treatable – and the sooner you seek help, the better. With treatment, you can reduce or eliminate the symptoms of panic and regain control of your life.




How To Treat Panic Attacks

  • Panic attacks and panic disorder are treatable conditions. They are generally treated with cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, or a combination of the two.

  • Exposure therapy for panic attacks exposes you to the physical sensations of panic in a safe and controlled environment, giving you the opportunity to learn healthier ways of coping. You may be asked to hyperventilate, shake your head from side to side, or hold your breath. These different exercises cause sensations similar to the symptoms of panic. With each exposure, you become less afraid of these internal bodily sensations and feel a greater sense of control over your panic.

When it comes to panic attacks, professional treatment and therapy can make a big difference. But there are many things you can do to help yourself. Read our self-help tips for panic attacks and start to get back control.

More useful Information About Panic Attacks

Go from What Causes Panic Attacks to More About Anxiety