Causes & Effects of Panic Disorder

At San Jose Behavioral Health, we believe education is an important first step in the effort to manage panic disorder. Understanding the signs, symptoms, and effects of panic disorder can help you get the right type and level of care for yourself or a loved one.

Understanding Panic Disorder

Learn About Panic Disorder

Panic attacks can be profoundly frightening experiences. With symptoms such as rapid heart rate, sweating, shaking, loss of breath, chest pain, feeling detached from the world or one’s own body, fear of “going crazy,” and feeling as if one is dying, these short but intense panic episodes can severely interfere with a person’s day-to-day life. Panic attacks typically begin unexpectedly and tend to be short, lasting only a few minutes.

Often, panic attacks are not isolated incidents. Over time, a person may experience multiple panic episodes, and as a result, he or she may begin worrying about future panic attacks and worrying about the consequences of these panic attacks. These individuals may even change their behavior in an attempt to avoid people, locations, or situations that may trigger panic. When a person has experienced multiple panic attacks, is worried about future attacks, and has changed his or her behavior as a result of the attacks, he or she may be struggling with a panic disorder.

Fortunately, symptoms of panic disorder can be managed through proper treatment, and those struggling with this disorder can regain a normal life.


Panic Disorder Statistics

According the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, about 2% to 3% of adults and adolescents will be diagnosed with a panic disorder in a given year. Women are diagnosed with panic disorder twice as often as men, and rates of the disorder tend to be highest in whites and Native Americans. The prevalence of panic disorder tends to be highest during adolescence and adulthood and tends to decrease with age, with a median age of onset of 20 to 24 years old.

Causes & Risks

Causes and Risk Factors of Panic Disorder

A person’s risk of panic disorder is affected by a number of genetic and environmental factors, such as:

Genetic: Like many other mental illnesses, panic disorder tends to run in families. Individuals whose parents have anxiety, depressive, or bipolar disorders are at an elevated risk of panic disorder, as compared to individuals who do not have a family history of these disorders.

Environmental: In addition to genetics, a person’s environment can also affect his or her chances of developing panic disorder. People who were sexually or physically abused as children are more likely than others to have panic disorder. Other stressors, such as interpersonal problems, disruptions to one’s physical well-being, drug use, disease, or death of a family member, can increase a person’s risk of panic disorder. Finally, certain health issues, such as smoking, can also increase one’s risk of this disorder.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of anxiety, depressive, or bipolar disorders
  • Having respiratory problems such as asthma
  • History of “fearful spells” during childhood
  • Sexual or physical abuse during childhood
  • Being a smoker
  • Presence of significant stressors in one’s life
  • Neuroticism and high sensitivity to anxiety

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Panic Disorder

Panic attacks (and panic disorder) tend to mirror the body’s natural fight-or-flight response. The signs and symptoms of this disorder can include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Avoiding people, places, or situations that one has linked to panic attacks
  • Restricting one’s activity or reorganizing one’s life to ensure that help will always be available in case of a panic attack

Physical symptoms:

  • Rapid heart rate or pounding heart
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Trembling
  • Feeling short of breath or as though one is being smothered
  • Choking sensation
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal distress
  • Feeling chills or heat
  • Dizziness, light-headedness, or faintness
  • Numbness or tingling

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Derealization (feeling as though the outside world is not real)
  • Depersonalization (feeling detached from oneself or one’s own body)

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
  • Fear of dying
  • Persistent concern or worry about panic attacks or the consequences of future panic attacks

Lasting Effects

Effects of Panic Disorder

Panic disorder can have increasingly disruptive effects on a person’s life the longer it is left untreated. Some of these effects may include:

  • Elevated risk of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts
  • Poor work performance, job loss, and resulting financial trouble
  • Withdrawing from activities outside one’s home
  • Reduction in quality of interpersonal relationships
  • Loss of social support
  • Increased risk of disability

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Disorders

Individuals with panic disorder are unfortunately also at an elevated risk for other mental health disorders. Some of the most common of these co-occurring disorders include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Substance use disorders

I began to experience recurring panic attacks. Work, home, even the gym... I felt like my life was out of control. I decided to seek treatment at San Jose. Their professional team treated my condition and my panic attacks have stopped! I am so relieved! Thank you, San Jose.

– Hillary D.