The Severity and Causes of Panic Attacks

You are on the bus for your daily commute to work, browsing your phone to learn about today’s news… when suddenly the driver rear ends another vehicle. You drop everything and suddenly begin to sweat profusely as your heart starts to race. You want to cry out for help but you can barely breathe and you feel increasingly more dizzy. The crash itself was merely a bump and no bodily harm was done. So why do you feel as though the world is closing in on you?

You may have just suffered from a panic attack, triggered by a past traumatic experience associated with a vehicular accident. If left untreated, these attacks can destroy long term quality of life and disrupt routines. Examining not only the specific types of panic attacks but also the nature of their occurrence is essential for combating their symptoms.

Risk Factors of Panic Attacks

Although there is no definitive, universal cause for panic attacks, there are common risk factors and triggers that can increase the likelihood of their manifestation.

  • Genetics: While no specific gene has been conclusively found, evidence has revealed that a family history of such a disorder can play a role in panic attacks arising in individuals.
  • External & Environmental factors: In some instances, traumatic events such as assault, injury or death of a loved one can serve as trigger points that activate panic attack responses.
    • Additionally, other specific external circumstances or experiences can bring forth a panic attack. Agoraphobia, or the fear of being unable to escape a difficult or embarrassing situation is a chief example of this.
  • Physiological Imbalance: Current studies have pointed towards that certain sub sections of the brain in relation to their functions and chemical imbalances can contribute to panic attacks.
    • The Amygdala houses the “fight or flight” response and a part of the “emotional” side of the brain. It is thought those suffering from a panic disorder experience an overactive Amygdala, characterized by an intense fear of something taking over the senses.
    • The Frontal Lobe, which houses a subsection called the Dorsal Anterior Cingulate Cortex. This can enhance brain signals associated with fear originating from the Amygdala.
    • The Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex, within the frontal lobe, lessens the signals coming from the Amygdala. Individuals with a damaged portion of this brain can be more likely to experience panic attacks since the Amygdala will go on unchecked.
    • Other chemical imbalances may include the overabundance of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline that can cause problems within the Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal Axis, a system of interactions between the Hypothalamus, Pituitary and Adrenal Glands.

While the research of the exact causes of panic attacks is an ongoing process, effective treatment options do exist. Visit the Kaizen Brain Center to learn more about effective neurocognitive treatment for panic attacks .