Causes of panic attacks

Panic attacks are distinguishable from other kinds of anxiety by the intensity of their symptoms as well as the immediate and unexpected manner in which they occur, but there are many different potential causes for panic attacks.

What causes panic attacks?

Causes differ from person to person and can include:

  • Biological causes – obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for example
  • Phobias – people will often experience attacks as a direct result of exposure to a phobic object or situation
  • Short-term triggering causes – significant personal loss, including an emotional attachment to a romantic partner
  • Long-term, predisposing causes – hereditary
  • Maintaining causes – avoidance of panic provoking situations or environments, anxious/negative self-talk ('what-if' thinking), mistaken beliefs ('these symptoms are harmful and/or dangerous'), withheld feelings
  • Lack of assertiveness – a growing body of evidence supports the idea that those who suffer from panic attacks engage in a passive style of communication or interactions with others
  • Medications – panic attacks may sometimes be a listed side effect of medications
  • Withdrawal – from alcohol, medication or drugs
  • Hyperventilation syndrome – breathing from the chest may cause over breathing, exhaling excessive carbon dioxide in relation to the amount of oxygen in one's bloodstream. Hyperventilation syndrome can cause respiratory alkalosis and hypocapnia
  • Situationally bound panic attacks – associating certain situations with panic attacks
  • Pharmacological triggers – certain chemical substances
  • Chronic and/or serious illness

How to get treatment for panic attacks

At Priory, we understand that experiencing a panic attack can be extremely daunting and frightening – first time sufferers often believe that they are suffering from a heart attack or a nervous breakdown. Our aim is to help any individual suffering with panic attacks to significantly reduce, improve and prevent these negative feelings.

Priory specialists are experts at understanding the causes of panic attacks and spotting their triggers. Our nationwide network of hospitals and wellbeing centres provide comfortable, friendly and safe environments for the treatment of panic attacks.

For further information on the treatments available for panic attacks, then please call: 0845 277 4679.