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Why do People have Panic Attacks?

written by: Kelly Marquize • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 11/11/2010

Scientists have not yet discovered what exactly causes panic attacks, but there are some known factors which are discussed in this article.

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    Why Do Some People Panic, While Others Do Not

    Why do people have panic attacks? That's a good question and one that does not have a cut and dry answer. Panic attacks can happen for a number of reasons; although it is not understood why some people have panic attacks and others do not. For some, panic attacks are a result of childhood trauma, for others they may have a genetic predisposition toward panic attacks. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons people may suffer from panic attacks.

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    Biological and Physical Factors

    The biopsychosocial model, proposed by psychiatrist George Engel, suggests that the mind and body of an individual are two important systems that are interlinked (wordIQ.com, 2010). In concordance with this theory, "the body's normal 'alarm system,' the set of mental and physical mechanisms that allows a person to respond to a threat, tends to be triggered unnecessarily, when there is no danger" (MedicineNet.com, 2010). Doctors are uncertain why this happens. It is also thought that panic disorder may be hereditary.

    Furthermore, there are five major biological causes for panic attacks which include: chemical imbalances, malfunctioning in the brain, production of sodium lactate, breathing air that has a higher amount of carbon dioxide, and hyperthyroidism (Fuller, 2010). Mitral valve prolapse (a condition where the heart valves do not close properly), hypoglycemia, and medication withdrawal can also trigger panic attacks.

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    Stress

    Stress can be the key ingredient to a panic attack. There are countless sources of such stress; work, family, money, and relationships all play a part in contributing to stress levels. If the stress becomes severe, it can lead to a full-blown panic attack. Thankfully, it does not go that far in most cases; however, it can and it is important to manage stress before it escalates.

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    Diet

    Mineral and vitamin deficiencies can cause panic attacks. By now, we should all know how important a healthy diet is. Eating a balanced diet is not just about losing or maintaining a healthy weight. There is sufficient evidence that shows the relationship between brain functions and certain minerals and vitamins.

    When our bodies are lacking these vital nutrients, we are not able to respond to certain stimuli, like stress-related factors, and therefore our bodies go into panic mode. By feeding our bodies the proper diet, we are essentially providing the ammunition to ward off negative responses. Lack of the following nutrients can contribute to panic attacks.

    • Calcium
    • Magnesium
    • Zinc
    • Inositol
    • Choline
    • Tryptophan
    • Taurine

    Likewise, there are some nutrients that may actually trigger a panic attack if there is an excess. Some examples are: potassium, B vitamins, sodium, phosphorus, and copper (Wilson, 2009).

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    Closing Remarks

    As you can see, when trying to answer the question "why do people have panic attacks?" there are many probabilities. Scientists are still looking for concrete answers, and until then, we must take into account what we do know and take care to pay attention to our bodies. We only have one body, and it is up to us to nurture it and do all that we can to ensure that it is in optimum health. If you or someone you know are prone to panic attacks, talk to your doctor and explore the possible reasons, and then act!

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    References

    Fuller, C. (2010) Panic attacks causes - Five physical reactions that you cannot stop! Retrieved November 7, 2010, from http://ezinearticles.com/?Panic-Attacks-Causes---Five-Physical-Reactions-That-You-Cannot-Stop!&id=4070950

    MedicineNet.com (2010). Panic disorder. Retrieved November 7, 2010, from http://www.medicinenet.com/panic_disorder/page2.htm

    Wilson, L. (2009). Nutritional causes of anxiety and panic attacks. Retrieved November 7, 2010, from http://www.encourageconnection.com/art01.html

    wordIQ.com (2010). Biopsychosocial model – Definition. Retrieved November 7, 2010, from http://www.wordiq.com/definition/Biopsychosocial_model