Panic disorder

Causes of panic disorder

As with many mental health conditions, the exact cause of panic disorder is not fully understood.

It is 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.

Genetic link

Having a close family member with panic disorder may increase your risk of developing the condition. However, the precise nature of the risk is not yet known.


Neurotransmitters are chemicals that occur naturally in the brain. It is thought that if you have an imbalance of these chemicals, it 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. Experimentally breathing 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 suffer panic attacks tend to focus on minor physical symptoms and interpret them in a catastrophic way, triggering a nervous system response that causes the panic attack.


Anxiety is an unpleasant feeling when you feel worried, uneasy or distressed about something that may or may not be about to happen.
Genetic is a term that refers to genes, which are the characteristics inherited from a family member.
The brain controls thought, memory and emotion. It sends messages to the body controlling movement, speech and senses.
Last updated: 16 November 2012

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