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This page was medically reviewed by Dr Oluwagbenga Odeyemi (MBBS, MPH, MRCPsych, PGDip. in Clinical Psychiatry), Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Wellbeing Centre Birmingham.

As with most mental health conditions, research suggests that there are a number of factors that can increase an individual’s susceptibility to struggling with panic attacks, and the impact of these factors can differ from person to person.

What can cause panic attacks?

Genetics have been found to play an important role in determining the likelihood of a person experiencing panic attacks. Research suggests that having a first degree relative such as a parent or sibling who suffers from panic attacks, makes it more likely that you will also develop panic attacks at some point in your life.

Other causes of panic attacks can be broken down into psychological, pharmacological (relating to the uses and effects of drugs) and environmental factors.

Psychological causes of panic attacks may include:

  • Chronic stress
  • Low self-esteem
  • An existing mental health condition such as anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Phobias - people may experience panic attacks as a direct result of exposure to a phobic object or situation
  • 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

Pharmacological causes of panic attacks may include:

  • Alcohol, drugs or medication withdrawal
  • Medication side effects
  • Excessive caffeine intake

Environmental causes of panic attacks may include:

  • Chronic physical illnesses such as cancer
  • Significant life changes such as losing a job, becoming a parent, and moving house
  • Experiencing a significant personal loss, including bereavement, or the breakdown of a relationship with a romantic partner
  • ‘Maintaining’ behaviour such as avoiding panic-provoking situations or environments, anxious/negative self-talk, dysfunctional beliefs, and withheld feelings

Although there are many reasons you may struggle with panic disorder, sometimes panic attacks can happen for no reason at all. Unexpected panic attacks have no apparent trigger and can happen at any time. 

Getting help for panic attacks 

At Priory, our panic attack treatment experts can help you to identify the underlying causes and triggers for your panic attacks, empower you to develop healthy coping strategies for the future, and take steps towards a full and sustainable recovery.

Whilst panic attacks can be distressing and difficult to cope with, it is important to understand that with effective treatment, they can be managed.

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For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0330 056 6020 or click here to submit an enquiry form. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

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