Symptoms and Causes of Panic Attacks

If you’ve ever experienced a panic attack or an episode of intense fear, you’ll understand how terrifying they can be. While panic is a natural feeling that stems from the body’s fight-or-flight response, panic disorders and attacks can be extremely harmful to individuals.


Panic attacks can happen at any time, and often suddenly without warning. People with panic disorders may experience them occasionally or frequently. There are a number of symptoms people can experience during a panic attack, and each attack may bring with it a different set of symptoms. This can make it difficult to identify when it’s a panic attack and when it’s something more serious, like cardiac arrest.

The most common symptoms of panic attacks include:

  • Sense of impending danger or doom
  • Fear of death or loss of control
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chills
  • Hot flashes
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness, faintness, or lightheadedness
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Feeling detached

The good news is that these symptoms usually peak and wane after a few minutes. After experiencing an attack though, people often have an intense fear of having another one. This can cause people to avoid certain situations, for fear of inadvertently causing another attack. While panic attacks aren’t dangerous, they are hard to manage on your own. Panic attacks can get worse without treatment, and can greatly disrupt one’s life. That’s why it’s important to seek medical help after an attack. Panic attacks mirror symptoms of other serious health problems, like heart attacks, so it’s best to get checked out to make sure that wasn’t what happened.


Doctors still aren’t entirely sure what causes panic attacks or panic disorders. It’s believed that these factors may play a role:

  • Genetics
  • Major stress
  • Temperament (Sensitivity to stress or prone to negative emotions)
  • Changes in the way parts of the brain function

Panic attacks can come at any time, but the longer someone experiences them, the more likely they are to be triggered by certain situations. Some research suggests the body’s fight-or-flight response is a factor in panic attacks. Many of the same reactions the body goes through while experiencing a fight-or-flight response also occur during a panic attack (like fast heart rate and trouble breathing).  Still, it’s not known why panic attacks occur, or what causes panic disorders to develop.

What To Do

The best thing to do after experiencing a panic attack is to seek medical help. This can initially be a regular medical doctor to rule out any physical causes of the symptoms. Treatment, through medication and/or psychotherapy, is important to helping people get better. Very few individuals are able to stop panic attacks from happening on their own. A doctor or psychiatrists is your best option for getting help. Please feel free to contact us to learn more about panic attacks and disorders, or to book an appointment with one of our psychiatrists.


Dr. Raul J. Rodriguez

Dr. Raul Rodriguez


Existing patients, please text 561-409-7296 for follow-up appointment requests or if you have medication concerns please text 561-409-7296.