Panic Disorder Causes: Underlying Causes of Panic Disorder

Panic disorder causes relate to brain chemicals, psychology and the environment. Medical conditions may also cause panic disorder. Learn more.

Like most mental illnesses, the causes of panic disorder are not fully understood. Likely, a combination of genetics, psychology and the environment play a part in causing panic disorder. It can also be caused by other medical conditions.

Panic disorder can also be a self-perpetuating condition. Once a person suffers a panic attack, they become so scared of having another one that the slightest indication of stress may cause another panic attack.

Genetic Causes of Panic Disorder

It is known that panic disorder runs in families and part of the reason why may be genetics. It is thought one of the causes of panic disorder is an inherited brain chemical (neurochemical) dysfunction, although the specific DNA has not yet been identified.

Some of the neurochemicals thought to be involved in the causes of panic disorder include:1

  • Serotonin
  • Cortisol
  • Norepinephrine
  • Dopamine

Medical Conditions

Several known medical conditions produce panic attacks and other panic disorder symptoms. Medical conditions that cause panic disorder include:2

  • Seizure disorders
  • Heart problems
  • Overactive thyroid
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Drug use – often stimulants like cocaine
  • Medication withdrawal

Some theorize panic disorder is caused by a chronic state of hyperventilation due to a hypersensitivity to carbon dioxide.

Other Causes of Panic Disorder

Panic disorder may also be caused by a natural overreaction to autonomic cues, often involving the fight-or-flight response. For example, a person naturally has an elevated heart rate when confronted with a stressful situation. A person with panic disorder might overreact to this increased heart rate and have a full-blown panic attack. This overreaction may be related to an abnormally high secretion of stress hormones.

Panic disorder also relates to times of stress such as in major life transitions - such as entering the workplace or having a baby. Severe, acute stress can also trigger a panic attack.

article references


APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2012, January 17). Panic Disorder Causes: Underlying Causes of Panic Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 18 from

Last Updated: May 15, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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