Written by Mita Majumdar, M.Sc. | 
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Nithin Jayan, MBBS, DNB on Dec 12, 2013

Causes of Anxiety Attack

Although the cause of anxiety attack is not fully known scientists believe that genes may play a role. The disorder can be passed on to you from both or either of your parents. However, the disorder often occurs even when there is no family history.

Panic attacks may also occur when there are abnormalities in the size or neural activity of certain structures in the brain. Amygdala, which controls autonomic functions such as respiration and heart rate, has been found to be involved in triggering panic attacks. Studies have found that electrical or drug stimulation of the central nucleus of the amygdala produces the behaviors associated with panic.

Anxiety Attack Brain

According to National Institute of Mental Health, panic disorder is also seen in people who have less number of serotonin receptors. Serotonin receptors are protein molecules found on the surface of brain cells that regulate the use of serotonin responsible for mood changes, appetite, and sleep.

Drug abuse and alcohol can also lead to panic attacks. Approximately 20 percent of panic disorder patients had lifetime histories of either alcohol or other substance abuse revealed a study published in the journal Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. Sometimes, it is the other way round – panic attacks lead to alcoholism and drug abuse, found another study published in the same journal. This is mainly seen in men where alcoholism was found to be primary with respect to panic disorder but not with respect to agoraphobia. In women, alcohol problems were more frequently secondary to panic disorder, according to the study.

Anxiety Attack Drug Alcohol

Alcohol and drug withdrawal too causes panic attacks in some people. Other than that, medical conditions such as mitral valve prolapse where one of the heart’s valves doesn’t close correctly, hyperthyroidism, and low blood sugar are possible causes of panic attacks.

Stressful events, death of a loved one, and even long term work stress can cause a panic attack. However, in most cases, the attacks are temporary and do not convert to panic disorder. But chronic stress can in fact lead to panic disorder.

Anxiety Attack Stress


  1. Frequently Asked Questions - (http://www.adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/ask-and-learn/faqs#n16)

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