A panic attack is defined as a sudden and intense feeling of fear and terror without the presence of real danger with the occurrence of physical symptoms. The causes of panic attacks may be due to genetic factors, living in constant anxiety and tension, or other possible causes. Frequent panic attacks and a constant fear of them could indicate a panic disorder, which is a type of anxiety disorder. [1]

In this article, learn about the causes of panic attacks, the risk factors that increase the likelihood of them, as well as the types of panic attacks.

The mechanism of panic attacks

When exposed to danger, the sympathetic system is stimulated and adrenaline is released, which increases the heart rate and breathing rate to supply the brain with more oxygen and increase blood flow to the muscles to prepare the body to face this threat, whether by fight or flight. [1]

This is a normal and useful reaction when actually facing danger, as the body has a similar reaction when exposed to nervous stress. [1]

These biological changes occur with or without a stimulus, but are more severe; This leads to panic and severe anxiety, and the person may even feel that he is about to die. [1]

Causes of panic attacks

The exact cause of panic attacks has not yet been known, but there are several possibilities for the causes of panic attacks for adults and children, including:

Genetic factors

It was found that panic disorder runs in some families; Which indicates the presence of a genetic factor in its occurrence, and the causes of panic attack and fear may be due to changes in several genes, including genes that affect cognitive ability and control of behavior. In addition, it is believed that there is a genetic relationship between panic disorder and the incidence of other psychological conditions, such as and neuroticism. [2] [3]

stress and anxiety

Repeated exposure to situations and events that cause feelings of stress and anxiety is one of the reasons for the recurrence of panic attacks, bearing in mind that feeling anxious from time to time is normal, but feeling anxious all the time may indicate injury. [2]

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Anticipatory anxiety

Reflecting on a traumatic event from the past may trigger a panic attack, as the body responds as if the event is happening now, and the trigger for this feeling can be seeing an image, having a conversation, or something that triggers a flashback of the painful memory. [4]

transitional stages in life

The causes of panic attacks and fear may be due to going through major transitional stages in a person’s life or stressful or traumatic events such as the death of a family member, and the incidence of them is not limited to negative events, as panic attacks can also occur with positive life changes due to the pressures and new responsibilities that follow, Examples of these events are: [2]

  • Moving from home to university.
  • Change home or city.
  • Starting a new job.
  • marriage.
  • Having a first child.

Psychological disorders

One of the causes of panic attacks and a sense of death can be the person’s injury to other psychological disorders, including: [5]

Infection with some diseases

One of the causes of panic attacks in children and adults may be medical conditions, such as: [6]

  • Mitral valve prolapse.
  • Low blood sugar.
  • .
  • Use of stimulants, such as caffeine, amphetamine, and cocaine.

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Risk factors for panic attacks

There are some factors that increase the risk of panic attacks, including: [5]

  • A history of childhood physical or sexual abuse.
  • Living or working under constant stress.
  • Going through a psychological trauma, such as being in a traffic accident.
  • Having a family history of panic attacks.

Types of panic attacks

Panic attacks are classified into different types, including: [1] [7]

  • Unexpected panic attacks: This is one of the causes of sudden panic attacks, as it occurs without warning, i.e. without the presence of stimuli from situations or danger, and these types of panic attacks may occur during sleep.
  • Panic attacks associated with something frightening: These attacks occur when you anticipate or actually experience a certain situation, as these situations become a catalyst for the occurrence of a panic attack, for example, a person who is afraid of closed places may have a panic attack when entering an elevator or just thinking about it. This type of panic attack is common in people with schizophrenia or generalized anxiety disorder.
  • Panic attacks not associated with something frightening: Panic attacks in this case occur before exposure to the triggering situation, during the situation, or after it. For example, people who are afraid of flying may suffer from a panic attack before, during, or after the flight.

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