Panic Attack Causes: What Causes Panic Attacks?

Read about common causes of panic attack. Information on life events that frequently cause panic attacks in people.

Experts don't have a clear understanding of panic attack causes. Some research suggests that chronic and acute stress, traumatizing events, chronic hyperventilation, excessive caffeine or stimulant intake, illness, or an abrupt change in environment may all be causes of panic attack in certain individuals. These events may inappropriately trigger the body's natural fight-or-flight response, causing the attack.

Learn About the Causes of Panic Attack

The causes of panic attack are numerous and varied, as they are with most mental health disorders. Research indicates that some people inherit the tendency to experience panic attacks. Despite this, seemingly healthy people with no family history of panic attacks can have them as well, given certain circumstances.

Risk factors that may increase a person's predisposition to having panic attacks and developing panic disorder include:

  • Significant amount of life stress (financial pressures, child or spouse with serious illness, domestic abuse, etc.)
  • History of sexual or physical abuse in childhood
  • Experiencing a traumatic event (rape, serious accident, or something like the 9/11 terrorist attacks)
  • Divorce or death of a loved one
  • History of panic attacks or panic disorder in the family
  • Changes in the way certain parts of the brain functions

Certain medical conditions are causes of panic attack as well. Mitral valve prolapse (MVP) refers to a problem occurring when the mitral valve of the heart doesn't close properly. It's a minor cardiac problem, but needs monitoring by a physician. If you're experiencing panic attacks, it's important that you seek medical attention to rule out MVP and some of these other medical conditions that can act as causes of panic attack:

  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Medication withdrawal
  • Overuse of stimulants, such as caffeine
  • Use of illicit stimulant drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamines

Certainly, use of illicit drugs of any kind points to other issues in your life that need attending by a healthcare professional. It's a good idea to seek help any time you have a panic attack, even if it's the first time you've had one. The physician will check for the above conditions and issues, which could end up saving your life, as some of them are life-threatening if not treated.

Major Life Changes – A Common Cause of Panic Attacks

If you've started having panic attacks, consider any major life changes as a possible cause. Perhaps you've just graduated college and entered the workforce, gotten married, had your first baby, or moved far away from family and friends. Any of these events may trigger a series of panic attacks.

Another common cause of panic attacks is divorce or the death of a loved one. Divorce and death elicit similar emotional responses in many people and both cause significant amounts of stress, which can cause a panic attack in some people.

It's a good idea to join a support group or see a therapist if you're undergoing any of these major life changes, but it's imperative that you seek help if your panic attacks started at or around the time you went through a major life change.

article references


APA Reference
Gluck, S. (2012, January 17). Panic Attack Causes: What Causes Panic Attacks?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Last Updated: May 15, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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