A panic attack, also known as an anxiety attack, is an internal event that manifests itself through physical symptoms, due to the feeling that you have suddenly and dangerously lost control of the events around you. Symptoms of this fear include shortness of breath, heart palpitations, trembling, and sweating to name just a few. The exact cause of panic attacks is not known, although there is an understanding of many of the factors that contribute to their onset.

Genetics is one possible cause for panic attacks. Just as physical characteristics are inherited, panic disorders have been shown to run in families. This is not to suggest that these disorders are directly passed on to the next generation. Rather, it is shown that family members are predisposed to these attacks. Sufferers often have family members who have panic disorder or some other emotional disorder such as depression.

Panic Attacks Cause

Another possible cause of panic attacks may be abnormalities in the brain. Changes in brain function can cause panic disorders. Some studies indicate panic attacks occur in individuals who also have psychotic disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or schizoaffective disorder. Psychotic episodes can be a precursor to the onset of specific anxiety disorders.

There is also research which suggests that the human “fight or flight” response to dangerous situations may play a part in panic attacks. The body has a set of physical and psychological mechanisms that causes people to respond to threats with an accelerated heart beat and an increased rate of breathing. These feelings can be triggered even if there is no real danger. Why this occurs is still unknown.

Stress can also be a cause of panic attacks. Certain events in one’s life, especially transitory occurrences such as a death, divorce, separation, or job loss, can trigger a panic attack. These events can also lower the body’s physical resistances, increasing one’s predisposition to an attack.

Lastly, there are environmental causes for panic attacks. Drug and alcohol use can trigger an event, as well as withdrawal from these substances in cases of abuse. Sometimes both environmental and biological causes work together to trigger an attack.  Most panic attacks are unexpected, but they can be brought on by the sufferer’s own response to a physical symptom. For example, if a drug causes an increased heart rate, the individual may interpret that as being a symptom a panic attack. This itself can bring on an actual panic attack, due to the anxiety and fear brought on by this non-related symptom.

The exact causes of panic attacks is unknown. No single treatment will work for all sufferers, so keep in mind you may need to try several therapies in order to find the one that works for you.

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