Panic Attack Causes
You find yourself suddenly short of breath; you feel a sense of impending doom, or that you’re perhaps about to die; but there’s no apparent reason. This is a frightening situation that affects many people at least once or twice in their lives, and many others frequently throughout their lives, often starting in adolescence. What’s happening is a panic attack. When this is a chronic condition, it is known medically as panic disorder.
These sudden episodes of intense fear, developing as they do for no readily apparent reason; can trigger severe physical reactions. The human brain is hardwired with the ‘fight-or-flight’ response when the mind senses danger. When this response is triggered in the absence of known reasons or clear peril, it is a panic attack. There are a number of causes of panic attacks that, if understood, can help mitigate the severe effects.
Long-term or predisposing causes of panic attacks
Research has shown that a tendency to panic attacks or panic disorder can run in families. While the evidence of an inherited predisposition to panic attacks is mostly inferred, as there has been no gene identified that has been definitely associated with this condition, enough cases of panic attacks or panic disorder in related individuals has been observed to lend credence. Research also indicates that panic attacks can be triggered by changes in the way the brain functions, although the research into this aspect is ongoing and is at yet inconclusive.
There is also evidence that panic attacks can be learned behavior. Children of overly pessimistic or over-cautious parents are reported to be more at risk of developing panic attacks than their peers. Research into this condition is ongoing, but there is already evidence that given the right set of circumstances, even otherwise healthy individuals can have panic attacks.
Panic attacks or panic disorder tends to first appear in childhood, and, in adults, are more prevalent in women or people with high IQs. Once dismissed as merely nerves or stress, panic disorder is now recognized as a valid medical condition that can require treatment.
Medical panic attack causes
Body changes caused by certain diseases are known to lead to feelings of depression or impending doom, and can trigger panic attacks. Persons suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and hypoglycemia are also prone to panic attacks. Wilson’s disease, an autosonal recessive genetic disorder in which copper accumulates in the tissues, can also cause panic attacks, as can hyperthyroidism, inner ear disturbance and vitamin B deficiency.
The symptoms of PTSD include suspicion, paranoia, and avoidance of contact with others, making this condition a form of panic disorder. The distinction is that PTSD, once identified, can often be traced to a specific traumatic incident, whereas, the cause or causes of panic attacks or panic disorder, are harder to pin down.
Asthma and heart disease, which affect the breathing, can also trigger feelings of panic, or even full-blown panic disorder.
Individuals suffering from any chronic illness are, in fact, more prone to panic attacks than healthy individuals, although, in many cases this can be a psychological or emotional response rather than a physical panic attack cause.
One of the side effects of medications like Ritalin or flouroquinoline type antibiotics is depression and feelings of panic. The malaria prophylaxis, Mefloquin, which causes vivid and erotic dreams in some, can also cause anxiety and panic attacks. Stimulants, medicines, caffeine, or nicotine; and even some depressants, can trigger panic attacks.
Hyperventilation, or mouth breathing, in which there is less carbon dioxide in proportion to oxygen in the lungs, can result in a feeling of panic or fear. This can, in turn, bring on a panic attack, or fear of suffocating. Reduction of oxygen flow to the brain, which can cause fainting, can trigger an extreme panic attack. This condition, called syncope, usually takes place when the individual is standing or sitting, and can occur when having a bowel movement or when urinating. Because it can occur instantaneously without warning, and can cause an individual to collapse while remaining conscious, the reaction of panic and fear can be quite severe. Fortunately, in most cases, this condition is transient, and the individual can fully recover by simply lying down until the symptoms fade away. In some severe cases, however, it can be life-threatening, and as in any physical or mental changes, one should consult a medical professional.
Lifestyle and personal habits
Alcohol and certain drugs, both illegal and illegal, can create feelings of suspicion and anxiety that lead to panic attacks. One of the withdrawal symptoms, drug or alcohol related, is a heightened sense of paranoia and fear. To a lesser degree, this can also affect persons trying to quit smoking as the body withdraws from the craving for nicotine.
Sudden life changes, such as loss of a loved one, anxiety at work, or any other personal loss or abrupt change, can trigger extreme anxiety and lead to panic attacks. While it might be thought that only negative life changes are the cause of this condition, it is known that any significant change in life can trigger stress, and can therefore, also trigger panic attacks. For instance, an unexpected promotion on the job, bringing on new and greater responsibility, and thus, higher expectations, can trigger a full-blown panic attack in some people.
Individuals prone to panic attacks tend to have less assertive personalities than non-sufferers. People prone to negativism, over-caution, or meekness, are at greater risk of suffering panic attacks than others.
Dietary panic attack causes
Research on the whether or not nutritional deficiencies can cause panic attacks is still inconclusive. There is some evidence that certain food additives might play a role in triggering panic attacks, but research is still ongoing. As has been previously mentioned, however, vitamin B deficiency is thought to play a role in causing panic attacks.
Panic attacks, when the cause is understood, can be disruptive, but can be overcome. Chronic attacks, or panic disorder, can have a severe impact on the quality of life. Personal activities are disrupted, relationships are strained or broken, and they can lead to deterioration of physical and mental well-being. Isolated panic attacks can occur to almost anyone at any time. Panic disorder, however, can be quite serious, and individuals suffering chronic feelings of panic and doom should consult a physician for examination and treatment.
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