Panic attacks are intense and overwhelming sensations of fear or anxiety that can strike unexpectedly. Although panic attacks can happen out of the blue, they are often a by-product of a deep-rooted mental health disorder. Below is a rundown of common mental health conditions that can cause panic attacks:
1. Panic Disorder
Panic disorder is a mental health condition characterized by recurrent, unexpected panic attacks. These attacks often occur without an obvious trigger and can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. Panic disorder can be debilitating and impair daily life.
People with panic disorder may also experience anticipatory anxiety, which is the fear of having another panic attack – which can culminate in a panic attack. This fear can lead to avoidance behaviors and can further impact their quality of life.
2. Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a mental health condition characterized by excessive and uncontrollable worry about various aspects of life. People with GAD often experience physical symptoms such as muscle tension, restlessness, and fatigue.
While panic attacks are not a defining symptom of GAD, they are not unheard of. Excessive stress and anxiety buildup in people with GAD can sometimes trigger panic attacks.
3. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. People with PTSD often experience flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts related to the traumatic event.
Panic attacks can also occur in people with PTSD. These attacks may be triggered by reminders of the traumatic experience, such as sounds, smells, or images. Re-experiencing the trauma through intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, and nightmares – a landmark characteristic of PTSD, may also trigger panic attacks.
4. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition characterized by persistent and intrusive thoughts, urges, or images (obsessions) that cause anxiety and repetitive behaviors or mental acts (compulsions) that are performed to alleviate that anxiety.
Panic attacks are not a primary symptom of OCD, but the excessive stress and anxiety associated with the condition can, in some cases, boil over and explode into a panic attack.
5. Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is a mental health condition characterized by intense fear or anxiety about social situations. People with social anxiety disorder may go to great lengths to avoid social situations or endure them with extreme discomfort.
It is not uncommon for people with social anxiety to experience symptoms such as increased heart rate, sweating, hyperventilation, dizziness, and trembling in social situations – which are also characteristic symptoms of panic attacks.
6. Specific Phobias
Specific phobias are a type of anxiety disorder characterized by intense fear or anxiety about a specific object or situation. Common specific phobias include fear of heights, spiders, or enclosed spaces. When exposed to the feared object or situation, people with specific phobias often experience physical symptoms of panic and may even have a full-blown panic attack.
Depression is one of the most prevalent mental health conditions, characterized by persistent feelings of sadness or emptiness, a negative outlook on life, and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
While pain attacks tend to be rare in people with depression, this debilitating mental illness has been associated with excessive levels of stress and anxiety – which can sometimes lead to the onset of pain attacks.
8. Substance Use Disorders
Substance use disorders are mental health conditions characterized by persistent and problematic substance use. People with substance use disorders often experience intense cravings to use the drug of choice, difficulty controlling the amount or frequency of use, and withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to quit.
Although the relationship between substance use and panic attacks is complex and not well understood, research shows that people who have substance use problems are at higher risk of developing panic attacks.
In a nutshell, panic attacks can be a symptom of various mental health conditions. Identifying the root cause of panic attacks is crucial for effective treatment. If you or someone you know is experiencing panic attacks, it is important to seek professional help right away.