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What Causes Panic Attacks?

By Gavin O'Byrne

Before we take a look at what causes panic attacks, let's take a look at what a panic attack is. It is an episode of extreme anxiety which includes alarming physical symptpms that can be brought on all of a sudden and continue for any length of time from minutes to hours. Panic attacks have the ability to manifest themselves in different ways and levels of intensity. Some people are afraid to leave their homes for fear of dying - this would be an extreme case - while other people might experience mild symptoms every now and then, but can still function in normal society.

The truth of the matter is that panic attacks are often the result of high anxiety levels. These intense levels of anxiety can cause physical feelings of discomfort in the body which then reinforce the sufferer's fears and can send them into a cycle of panic and irrational thought. However, doctors are unable to give a definitive diagnosis as to what causes these episodes. What differs are the reasons for those high levels of anxiety. In most cases this is a seed that has been planted from very early childhood. It could be because of abandonment issues or the cause could have been an overbearing mother. Young children are very receptive and they can pick up on any fears or anxiety that people close to them might have, eventually bringing this into their own adult lives.

While as many as 33 percent of people suffer from panic attacks, not everyone is aware that they are at risk. They may be accustomed to a level of general anxiety which is mild and continues for the entire length of a person's life. However, they can be intensified, or unlocked if you will, by a specific event or incident. This event is called a 'trigger' and is what causes panic attacks in the very beginning. Usually the trigger is something that happens which causes high levels of anxiety. This anxiety continues to reside in the sufferer's conscience after the event. Try to imagine your level of anxiety being measured by a thermostat in the brain. When you are at a state of alert, the thermostat goes into the red. Now imagine that the thermostat somehow becomes stuck in the red, maintaining an increased level of 'high alert' in the brain. The result is a constant state of anxiety which is always bubbling under the surface.

Everyone who suffers from these attacks will have asked themselves 'What causes panic attacks?' at some stage or another. Usually this happens in the beginning before they begin to understand how they work. A lot of people confuse panic attacks with having a heart attack due to an irregular heartbeat and palpitations. The person in question will begin to experience dizziness or cold sweats. This can be followed by blurred vision and in some cases tingling or pains in the arms or hands. Tightness in the chest and shortness of breath may also be symptoms of a panic attack and in very extreme cases a blackout may even occur.

Despite how intense or uncomfortable these sensations can be, they are completely harmless. However, if you have been unlucky enough to have been in this situation you will know that irrational thought also plays a big factor in what causes panic attacks. It is very difficult to tell yourself that these feelings are harmless and that you will be okay. Even though panic attacks are indeed harmless, it is always wise to visit you doctor as soon as possible if you experience such symptoms as mentioned above.

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