Causes of Panic Attacks

A panic attack, as the phrases sounds, is a period of alarm or intense anxiety suddenly aroused in a person. Physiological symptoms may include quick and shallow breathing, rapid heart beat (and spike in blood pressure), chest pain, perspiration, tingling sensations (for example, in the fingers), dizziness, and shaking. Often triggers to an onset are unclear, seem improbable, or are comprised of a combination of causes.

Ideally, the way panic attacks are addressed varies depending on the direct or indirect cause or causes. Examples of biological causes may include reaction to pharmaceutical medication or chemical imbalances in the brain associated with certain diseases or disorders.  Among the latter are schizophrenia and post traumatic stress disorder.

One of the body’s defense mechanisms is the instantaneous “fight-or-flight” reaction. When a person is faced with a real and imminent danger, such a high alert response can be helpful. An increased heart rate, and heavier breathing are conditions useful when the body is sprinting to avoid an oncoming buffalo.  Some believe that in the absence of such obvious tangible causes, panic attacks might at times be the brain’s misapplication of fight-or-flight.

One possible source of that misapplication might be withdrawal from alcohol or some pharmaceutical medications or illegal drugs. Or a reaction to a drug when taken the first time.

Another source might even be genetic. At least a tendency can be found in twins or within families to a statistically significant degree. Or there can be an observed hereditary tendency that has a statistically significant association with panic disorder. Of course, if a family lives in the same or similar areas, environmental factors may come into play.

Environmental factors include stressful situations that affect human emotions.

What if, for example, your parent or other loved one died at a time when you were feeling particularly vulnerable? Or a series of unfortunate events hit you in waves? In some cases, people seem to develop a tendency to panic attacks following such stresses, or the situation in which a traumatic event occurred can trigger a panic attack even though a similar traumatic even is unlikely to happen.

A person who lived through a car accident at a certain intersection in which a spouse died may suffer a panic attack when nearing the same traffic intersection. Or the accident could make the person more vulnerable in any stressful situation.

Or if a person has a serious heart condition, for example, some physical stress or medication that raises heartbeat may cause a panic attack. As a person interprets the biological signs in his or her body, a panic attack can come on even if the self-diagnosis is incorrect. I may think I am starting to have a panic attack just because I am hyper ventilating … or whatever. Indeed, the very fear of another panic attack, whatever the original cause or causes, may trigger a panic attack. Biological and environmental factors are often closely linked.

Multiple causes may make treatment of panic attacks challenging. Often, the causes are not well understood. Avoiding threatening situations and prescribing mood-altering drugs may help, but seeking treatment through a variety of therapies or modalities in many cases may prove the most effective.

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