Panic Attacks

What Causes Panic Attacks?

To successfully treat and prevent recurrence of panic attacks we need to understand and — if possible — remove the underlying causes and risk factors.  We need to ask: "What else is going on inside the body that might allow panic attacks to develop?"

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Accurate diagnosis of the factors behind panic attacks consists of three steps:

Step 1: List the Possible Causative Factors

Identify all disease conditions, lifestyle choices and environmental risk factors that can lead to panic attacks.  Here are eight of many possibilities (more below):
  • Adrenal Fatigue
  • Aspartame/Neotame Side-Effects
  • Cigarette Smoke Damage
  • EFA 3 Need
  • Mercury Toxicity
  • Chronic Thyroiditis
  • Pyroluria
  • Mitral Valve Prolapse

Step 2: Build a Symptom Checklist

Identify all possible symptoms and risk factors of each possible cause, and check the ones that apply:
preauricular node problems
coffee consumption
joint pain/swelling/stiffness
meal-related bloating
sugar/sweet craving
slight moodiness
mild mercury toxicity
major joint pain/swelling/stiffness
brittle fingernails
recently quitting smoking
severe vision disturbances
moderate unexplained weight gain
... and more than 130 others

Step 3: Rule Out or Confirm each Possible Cause

A differential diagnosis of your symptoms and risk factors finds the likely cause of panic attacks:
Cause Probability Status
Chronic Thyroiditis 93% Confirm
Mercury Toxicity 22% Unlikely
Mitral Valve Prolapse 17% Unlikely
Pyroluria 4% Ruled out
Aspartame/Neotame Side-Effects 4% Ruled out
EFA 3 Need 1% Ruled out
Adrenal Fatigue 0% Ruled out
Cigarette Smoke Damage 0% Ruled out
* This is a simple example to illustrate the process

Arriving at a Correct Diagnosis

The Analyst™ is our online diagnosis tool that learns all about you through a straightforward process of multi-level questioning, providing diagnosis at the end.

In the Emotional Symptoms section of the questionnaire, The Analyst™ will ask the following question about panic attacks:
Have you had a problem with panic attacks?
Possible responses:
→ Never had one / don't know
→ Probably had one/minor episode(s) now resolved
→ Major episode(s) now resolved
→ Current minor problem
→ Current major problem
Based on your response to this question, which may indicate either history of panic attacks or panic attacks, The Analyst™ will consider possibilities such as:
Chronic Thyroiditis

Hashimoto's autoimmune thyroiditis has been associated with a range of anxiety symptoms including panic attack.

Cigarette Smoke Damage

Female patients with panic disorder had a significantly higher smoking prevalence at the onset of their illness than did control subjects 10 years previously (54% vs. 35%).  Current smoking prevalence was also higher in those patients with panic attack versus controls (40% vs. 25%).  Male smoking rates did not differ between the groups.  [Psychiatric Research, 1992;43: pp.253-62]

EFA (Essential Fatty Acid) Type 3 Requirement

In one study, 3 out of 4 patients with panic attacks or a history of agoraphobia for 10 or more years improved within 3 months after taking flaxseed oil.

Excess Sugar Consumption

Eating a lot of foods high in refined sugar increases blood lactate levels and may induce panic in susceptible persons.

Progesterone Low or Estrogen Dominance

It has been reported that women with low progesterone levels experience less intense or less frequent panic attacks after progesterone supplementation.  In some cases, sublingual progesterone in olive oil has produced immediate benefit.

Low Adrenal Function / Adrenal Insufficiency

When adrenal function is low, caffeine consumption may contribute to panic attacks.  Caffeine interferes with adenosine, a brain chemical that normally has a calming effect, and raises the level of lactate, a biochemical known to produce panic attacks.

Mitral Valve Prolapse

People with mitral valve prolapse (MVP) seem somehow to be 'wired' differently.  Their autonomic response can be much more volatile and unstable so that normal stresses and surprises set off an exaggerated response, flooding their systems with stress hormones called the catecholamines.  In fact, there may not be a specific stressor; people with MVP are intermittently and unpredictably awash in their own catecholamines.  This leaves them alternately innervated and exhausted – "wired but tired" is a common feeling.

If the sympathetic nervous system of a person with MVP is aroused, they can suddenly feel crushing chest pain, with heartbeat racing and pounding.  They may begin to hyperventilate, feel short of breath, and break out into a cold sweat.  This may occur without warning or immediate threat.  There can be sensations of chest pain, a feeling of doom or detachment, a fear of dying, or a desire to flee.  If they don't know why this is happening, the symptoms themselves are scary, and the fear of the unknown can prompt an even greater release of stress hormones, driving them into the kind of meltdown of the autonomic nervous system called a panic attack.  This is an intense and scary experience, the sensations of which can easily be confused with those of a heart attack.  Once people experience this, they generally have a persistent fear of having another attack, which puts them on a "hair trigger", ready to respond to the slightest symptoms by releasing the very stress hormones that induce the panic attacks, thus escalating a new attack.

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