Causes of panic disorder 

As with many mental health conditions, the exact cause of panic disorder isn't fully understood.

It's thought that panic disorder is probably caused by a combination of physical and psychological factors. Some of these factors are outlined below.

Traumatic life experiences

A trauma, such as bereavement, can sometimes trigger feelings of panic and anxiety. These feelings may be obvious soon after the event or they may be triggered unexpectedly years later.

Genetics

Having a close family member with panic disorder is thought to increase a person's risk of developing it. However, the precise nature of the risk isn't known.

Neurotransmitters

Neurotransmitters are chemicals that occur naturally in the brain. It's thought that an imbalance of these chemicals may increase your risk of developing conditions such as panic disorder.

Increased sensitivity to carbon dioxide

Some experts believe that panic disorder is linked to an increased sensitivity to carbon dioxide. Breathing in air with high carbon dioxide levels can bring on panic attacks, and breathing techniques can help to relieve or stop panic attacks.

Catastrophic thinking

Another theory is that people who experience panic attacks tend to focus on minor physical symptoms and interpret them in a catastrophic way. This triggers a nervous system response that causes the panic attack.


Page last reviewed: 15/08/2014

Next review due: 15/08/2016