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The Causes of Panic Attacks

Panic attacks often take women by surprise. They come without a warning and with no apparent reason. Science did not yet identified the exact cause of panic attacks, but there are several biological causes and environmental factors that are believed to play a role. Read on to discover the most common causes and factors of panic attacks.

The Causes of Panic Attacks

Biological Causes

Hormonal imbalance

The fluctuating hormones during pregnancy makes middle-aged women more susceptible to panic attacks. Estrogen shifts disrupt the levels of serotonin, which is essential in controlling moods, while changes in progesterone levels make women emotionally vulnerable.

Genetics

Scientists suspect that there might be a genetic predisposition to panic attacks, as well as an anxiety disorder and depression. Although the genetic inheritance claim has not been validated yet, it has been observed that panic attacks often do run in families.

Mental health illnesses

It has been shown that one third of all women suffering from depression also experience panic attacks, and it is estimated that about half of women with panic attacks will develop depression over the years.

Biological malfunction

There is a small evidence that panic attacks might be caused by some kind of an abnormality in the nervous system, either the brain itself or the functioning of neurons. However, more research is needed to validate these claims.  

Environmental Factors

Stressful life events

Certain traumatic life situations, such as loss of a family member or divorce, as well as major milestones, like a birth of a baby or school graduation, can trigger panic attacks. History of physical or sexual abuse from childhood can also play a role.

Caffeine

Although caffeine does not cause panic attacks per se, its excessive intake can increase the heart rate, which some women might mistake for an upcoming panic attack. This anticipation usually evokes stress and anxiety, which in fact might result in an actual panic attack.

Alcohol and drug abuse

Panic attacks can take their toll on women's life, especially if they lead to the development of phobias. Some women feel overwhelmed and try to find relief in alcohol or illegal drugs, which in turn, might worsen the panic attack episodes and increase the risk of depression or suicide.

Additionally, certain character traits, such as pessimism or tendency to worry a lot, have been shown to have a strong association with panic attacks. Women who have a low self-confidence and who are over-sensitive to criticism tend to be more prone to panic attacks, as well.

Like with other mental health conditions, it is difficult to identify the underlying causes of panic attacks. Sometimes a combination of several factors contribute to their development, which often delays the proper diagnosis. However, despite the unknown causative mechanism, panic attacks can be successfully treated. Don't forget to take a look at the most common treatment options to put your panic attacks at ease and prevent them from controlling your life.

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Differences between a Panic Attack and Panic Disorder

Though the terms are often used interchangeably, important differences exist between panic attacks and panic disorder.

Sources:
  • Cleveland Clinic. (2017). Panic disorder. Retrieved September 18, 2017 from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/panic-disorder
  • Comprehensive psychiatry. (1991). Personality traits associated with panic disorder: change associated with treatment. Retrieved September 18, 2017 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1935017
  • Mayo Clinic. (2015). Panic attacks and panic disorders. Retrieved September 18, 2017 from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/panic-attacks/basics/risk-factors/con-20020825
  • The British Medical Journal. (2006). Panic disorder. Retrieved September 18, 2017 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1444835/