Causes Of Panic Attacks

There are many possible causes of panic attacks. You may be suseptible to anxiety or panic attacks due to medical issues, chemical or nutritional imbalances or habitual learned behavior. If you have ever experienced a panic attack it's very important to determine what the cause is.

You probably know the feeling - raging heartbeat, difficulty breathing, feeling as though you can't get enough air, shaking, paralyzing terror, trembling, sweating, tingling, and shaking, dizzyness and intense fear -- it's another panic attack!

anxious lady
If you have experienced one or more panic attacks you know the feelings all too well. What are the possible causes of these strange uncomfortable episodes?

Medical Conditions

Certain medical conditions are known to cause symptoms that are pretty much identical to a panic attack. So if you have had panic attacks it is important to get yourself checked out. Get these conditions treated if you have them.

  • Hypoglycemia
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Mitral valve prolapse
  • Withdrawal from some medications/drugs
  • Excessive stimulant use (eg caffeine or drugs)

Diabetes and asthma and heart attacks sometimes also produce symptoms that are like a panic attack.


Your genetics can be one of the causes of panic attacks. If you experience panic attacks chances are someone else in your extended family has too! This can be due to inherited factors or learned behavior.

There is research showing a strong genetic influence -- it is not really surprising that some people are genetically predisposed to panic episodes.

Studies of identical twins show that if one twin has panic attacks, the other has a very high liklihood of also experiencing panic - even if they were raised apart!

However, even though there is a genetic influence it is not as though anyone has discovered one single gene that would account for the inheritance of panic attacks.

Keep in mind is that even if you do have an inherited tendency, this does not mean that you are doomed to live a life filled with anxiety.

You can have a comfortable, relaxed joyful life. It's a matter of finding the right treatment and learning new skills. You can counteract genetic influences.

Diet and Lifestyle

If you have a diet that is high in refined sugar, caffeine, and processed white flour you are setting yourself up for bad health as well as anxiety problems.

This type of unhealthy diet is one of the suspected causes of panic attacks.

The surges of stimulants and sugar going through your body can easily produce feelings of anxiety and possibly panic.

The same is true if you use certain street drugs recreationally.

These chemicals through your body's natural state of fine-tuned balance out of whack -- leaving you vulnerable to stress, illness, anxiety and depression.

Exercise -- Or Lack of It!

Sometimes feelings of anxiety are no more than pent up energy that has no where to go. A sedentary lifestyle with little or no exercise and lots of food (energy) leads naturally to feelings of stress and anxiety, and can be one of the causes of panic attacks.

Don't believe it? Next you are feeling worried, stressed out or afraid of something go for a walk - a long walk - even better if you can go outside and catch some fresh air too. Walk for so long that you are tired and then check your stress, fear or worry level. It has almost certainly gone down -- way down!

Mineral Shortage or Imbalance

Low levels of certain minerals such as magnesium and selenium are another of the suspected causes of panic attacks. Shortages of magnesium and selenium certainly do cause anxiety.

Modifying your diet or taking supplements can help.

Take a look at our recomendations for getting more "peace" and "relaxation" out of your diet here.


Sometimes our own personalities can even predispose us to just generally being more nervous, worried or tending to panic that other people.

Some of us have a nervous system that reacts more quickly or is more sensitive to external and internal stimulus.

Have you ever gone to pick out a puppy to take home as a pet and spent some time watching and playing with the whole litter?

You will always find that some seem to be more outgoing, some seem to stand out as being very brave and another might be more hesitant, another might seem timid and another easily startled.

People are the same way. Each of us has a nervous system and a personality that is just a little bit different from everyone elses. We are unique.

People who have panic attacks also tend to be more reactive and have personalities that make them more prone to worry and nervousness.

"Flight or Fight" Reaction to a Scary Thing

Yes our bodies are made with a wonderful survival strategy often called the "fight or flight" mechanism. This huge push of adrenalin gets us ready to move -- fast!!!

If you encounter something you are very afraid of - let's say a mouse or spider, wild bear or an intruder - you would likely react with this fight or flight mechanism - and it might even save your life!

It is very natural to react with panic or to have a panic attack in these circumstances. And it does not mean you have panic disorder.

It is when you start to have panic reactions for no obvious reason, and to fear and attempt to avoid further panic attacks....

Panic Disorder

One of the most obvious causes of panic attacks is that you have panic disorder! But that is a bit like saying you have the flu because you have the flu - isn't it?

Experts believe that a person gets panic disorder in part due to genetic or other predispositions -- coupled with a thinking pattern that increases the liklihood of a panic attack.

Trauma, Abuse or Bullying

So many people who have severe anxiety issues report being abused either in childhood or as an adult. Many others have been bullied or have experienced some form of personal trauma such as the death of a loved one.

These experiences leave scars on us, and are painful to remember. Sometimes even thinking about these incidents can bring on feelings of intense fear.

Other Factors

There are many other possible causes of panic attacks.

For myself, I know that having a very vivid imagination is another thing that sets me up for anxiety! Being able to imagine in detail all the bad things that could happen and then just letting my mind run with it - bad idea!

Also another thing I have noticed - what is called "one trial learning".

This is a phenomenon that you may learn about in high school or university science and psychology. Its practical purpose in nature is to keep you out of serious trouble. Keep you from eating poisonous plants and such.

It works like this - imagine yourself out in the wild - thousands of years ago -- you are searching for food -- you eat a plant - become very very sick - - it is poisonous - and you instantly learn NEVER to eat that plant again. It's an adaptive phenomenon that helped us to survive in the wild.

Ever had that happen to you in modern life? I have. I used to love cherry pie. Until one day I ate a huge piece of cherry pie just prior to coming down with the flu.

To this day, the sight of that pie makes me feel sick. That is "one trial learning" in action. It only took one bad experience to make me avoid that pie forever!

It can work the same way with experiences -- let's say you have a fright -- fall out of a boat and can't swim -- for example - your mind may pull the "one trial learning" trick and you may find yourself with a lingering fear or even a panic reaction when you are near a boat again. Not fun!

Help for the Many Possible Causes of Panic Attacks

Regardless of the possible causes of panic attacks, please be assured that there is help and hope.

If you have experienced a panic attack it may very well be the only one you ever experience. See a doctor about what happened to be sure there are no medical issues. If you end up experiencing more you need to seek extra help.

But don't worry, with the right treatment this condition can be managed so that you feel comfortable and relaxed.

Learn more about Panic Attacks.

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Treatment Options

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