Panic Disorder

Panic Attacks

The Facts

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder. People with this condition may become anxious about a situation to the extent that their feelings interfere with daily life. While most people have experienced a panic attack brought on by particular events or situations, the attacks in panic disorder often develop suddenly and for no apparent reason.

Panic disorder affects up to 3% of adults in the United States, and it is twice as common in women as in men. The disorder can appear at any age, but it most commonly appears in young adults.

The risk of developing a panic disorder is increased if there is a family history of panic attacks or disorders, a history of abuse, the experience of a traumatic event, the experience of lots of stress, or the need to adapt to significant changes in your life.


The exact cause of panic disorder is not entirely understood. However, researchers believe that panic disorder may be due to chemical imbalances in the brain. Panic disorder also tends to run in families, so there is likely a strong genetic connection. Excessive stress and trauma may also be linked to the development of panic disorder.

Panic disorder may also be caused by certain medical conditions, such as an overactive thyroid (i.e., hyperthyroidism) and certain heart problems.

Things that may trigger a panic attack include:

  • drinking large amounts of alcohol
  • drinking excessive amounts of caffeine (e.g., coffee, tea, colas)
  • taking stimulants or cocaine
  • taking or suddenly stopping taking certain prescription medications
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The contents of this health site are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition.

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