It's not known what causes panic attacks or panic disorder, but these factors may play a role:
- Major stress
- Temperament that is more sensitive to stress or prone to negative emotions
- Certain changes in the way parts of your brain function
Panic attacks may start off by coming on suddenly and without warning, but over time, they're usually triggered by certain situations.
Some research suggests that your body's natural fight-or-flight response to danger is involved in panic attacks. For example, if a grizzly bear came after you, your body would react instinctively. Your heart rate and breathing would speed up as your body prepared itself for a life-threatening situation. Many of the same reactions occur in a panic attack. But it's not known why a panic attack occurs when there's no obvious danger present.
May 19, 2015
- Panic disorder. In: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5. 5th ed. Arlington, Va.: American Psychiatric Association; 2013. http://www.psychiatryonline.org. Accessed April 20, 2015.
- Ciechanowski P. Panic disorder: Epidemiology, pathogenesis, clinical manifestations, course, assessment, and diagnosis. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed April 21, 2015.
- Panic disorder: When fear overwhelms. National Institute of Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/panic-disorder-when-fear-overwhelms/index.shtml. Accessed April 20, 2015.
- Answers to your questions about panic disorder. American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/topics/anxiety/panic-disorder.aspx. Accessed April 20, 2015.
- Craske M. Psychotherapy for panic disorder. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed April 21, 2015.
- Inositol. National Medicines Comprehensive Database. http://naturaldatabase.com. Accessed April 20, 2015.
- Gaudlitz K, et al. Aerobic exercise training facilitates the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy in panic disorder. Depression and Anxiety. 2015;32:221.
- Vorkapic CF, et al. Reducing the symptomatology of panic disorder: The effects of a yoga program alone and in combination with cognitive-behavioral therapy. Frontiers in Psychiatry. 2014;5:1.
- Roy-Byrne PP. Pharmacotherapy for panic disorder. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed April 21, 2015.
- Clonazepam, alprazolam, venlafaxine hydrochloride, fluoxetine hydrochloride, paroxetine mesylate, paroxetine hydrochloride, sertraline hydrochloride. Micromedex 2.0 Healthcare Series. http://www.micromedexsolutions.com. Accessed April 22, 2015.
- Sawchuk CA (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. May 8, 2015.
- Hall-Flavin DK (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. May 11, 2015.