What are Common Causes of Anxiety and Panic Attacks?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2018
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The underlying common causes of anxiety and panic attacks are still being investigated by medical researchers, and though there are some things presently known about why these occur, it’s not possible to list all the reasons why some people seem more prone to these attacks than others. It should be understood that extreme stress could cause anyone to suffer a panic attack, which might be accompanied by symptoms like racing heart, excess perspiration, pressure on the chest, a feeling of dread or that a person is going to die, and rapid breathing. Not all people who have one panic attack have another, but many people who do have a single panic attack actually end up being prone to having them in the future. In general, the most common cause of anxiety and panic attacks is suffering from an underlying anxiety disorder or conditions that provoke significant anxiety like post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS or PTSD), and the first panic attack may be symptomatic of such a disorder.


Most often, anxiety and panic attacks are explained as an excessive fight/flight response, which is frequently in the absence of any type of real danger being present. Sometimes people learn to identify things that tend to trigger these attacks like sights, smells, sounds, or certain thought patterns. These triggers aren’t really dangerous, either, but the body responds as though it is in extreme danger, and the response is often disabling and massively frightening. Physically, the body becomes flooded with hormones like adrenaline and this provokes many of the symptoms mentioned above.

Some people appear to be overly sensitive in this area and are more likely to experience an overwhelming anxiety response. This is sometimes attributed to genetics because predilection to panic tends to run in families. An opposite argument is made that children learn to panic by watching their parent’s coping responses. It’s not fully clear that anxiety and panic attacks are always genetic and they certainly can have other causes.

There are suggested environmental or behavior issues that also make people more prone to panic attacks. Children who have these attacks may continue to suffer them as adults, and have more difficulty bringing them under control. Abusive environments or any experience of strong stress that could lead to PTSD seems to be a common cause.

People who develop strong phobias may be more prone to anxiety and panic attacks, too. Even the fear of encountering whatever is feared may result in these symptoms. Sadly, when these fears become pronounced, people may also worry about having panic attacks in public. This may make people more likely to suffer more attacks, and thus less likely to interact with others.

Another condition associated with anxiety and panic attacks is obsessive-compulsive disorder. This is actually classed as an anxiety disorder. When people with this condition find their patterns of behavior disrupted, they may be in a constant state of worry that can easily escalate to an exaggerated fight/flight response.



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