Panic Disorder Symptoms and Causes
Everyone, at one point or another, has felt anxious. It could have been due to stress. It could have been as a result of having to perform in front of an audience. It could have been for fear of not being accepted by the graduate school of your choice. But have you ever had episodes of intense anxiety and fear, unexpectedly and in the absence of any real external threat? If you have, then you were very likely experiencing a "panic attack," the hallmark of panic disorder, which occurs when the brain’s normal mechanism for reacting to a threat become used inappropriately (9). This disorder is associated not only with a number of somatic and cognitive ...view middle of the document...
Most panic attacks last for only several seconds, but the symptoms may persist for several hours (2).
A person with a panic disorder, in which the panic attacks recur often, eventually develops a fear of having another attack. This often actually induces a panic attack and the cycle just keeps on going (6). Many times the patient will convince himself/herself so fervently that they are dying that many sufferers often feel the need to go to the emergency room and get tested. Even though this disorder is easily as well as successfully treatable, if it is not diagnosed it can become very debilitating to the individual (9).
But what causes a panic disorder? There is no definitive answer when it comes to this question. It is believed that there are a number of causes for this type of disorder, ranging form causes of genetic nature, to causes tied to the brain and biochemical abnormalities (6). Sometimes panic disorders run in families. It is not unusual for a mother and a daughter to have a panic disorder, just like it has been proved through research that if one of genetically identical twins has the disorder, it is likely that the other will also (9). Thus the conclusion is that in some cases a genetic factor, in combination with the environment, may play a role in the individual’s predisposition to the mental illness.
On the other hand, some individuals are believed to have panic disorder due to biochemical abnormalities in the brain. Research suggests that this type of mental illness many be a result of increased activity in the hippocampus and locus coeruleus, portions of the brain that monitor internal and external stimuli and control the brain’s responses to them (6). There is also indication that the amygdala plays a role in this disorder. The amygdala, along with the hippocampus are major centers of the limbic system—a system that "controls" our emotions (5).
Also, in this type of disorder, many neurotransmitter alterations exist. Those neurotransmitters include serotonin, norepinephrine, gamma-aminobutyric acid, corticotropin-releasing hormone, and cholecystokinin. Since all these neurotransmitters are closely related and work together in the body, it only takes a change in one to cause a change in all of them, resulting in a number of extensive feedback mechanisms (6). For that reason, panic disorders are treated with, for example, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, which work block the reuptake of serotonin in the body so that its presence is increased in the brain. This is very important because serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a major role in "quieting" the stress response (7).
But a panic disorder can also be triggered by an "overdose" of a stimulant such as caffeine or cocaine. Caffeine is a stimulant that interferes with a chemical in the brain called "adenosine." This chemical acts as a natural tranquilizer or a sedative in our body, and when it is meddled with, it can...