What Causes Anxiety Attacks

What Causes Anxiety Attacks?

Dr. Hege Answers Your Questions About What Causes Anxiety Attacks

The terms anxiety attack and panic attack are frequently used interchangeably.  Panic attacks are a common and specifically defined type of anxiety attack.  They begin "out of the blue" with prominent air hunger, shortness of breath, and/or rapid heart rate.  These physical symptoms that are interpreted as a life-threatening medical crisis proceed to worry, anxiety, fear, and frank terror.  A whole cascade of physical and psychological symptoms follows.  Trembling, sweating, dizziness, faintness, nausea, numbness, blurring, and others appear.  The time from onset to peak is minutes.  The anxiety attack or panic attack usually improves a great deal over 15 to 20 more minutes.

Understanding The Causes of Anxiety Attacks

The primary cause of anxiety attacks is abnormal over-sensitivity to carbon dioxide in the brain.  Ten percent of humans have this abnormality.  We inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. If we slow down our breathing or take shallower breaths, our carbon dioxide concentration in the blood increases. The carbon dioxide sensor in the brain gives us the sensation of air hunger. We take deeper and/or more frequent breaths.  Without this normally functioning compensating system, we would suffocate and die. SIDS infants have abnormally low sensitivity to carbon dioxide. When they sleep in a position so that they are re-breathing their own carbon dioxide, they don't sense their rising carbon dioxide concentration, wake up, roll over, and breathe fresh air.  Instead, they suffocate and die. In the 10% of people who have abnormal over-sensitivity, this signal of increased carbon dioxide concentration may be exaggerated and set off  the alarms that result in a panic attack. This is why early panic attacks occur "out of the blue". Typically the first attacks occur during a period of increased stress in the person's life. Physical and psychological stress increases numerous neurochemicals in the body that may further increase the brain' s over-sensitivity to carbon dioxide. Then a small amount of holding the breath or breathing more shallowly may trigger the whole suffocation sensation emergency drama. After one or two anxiety attacks, a person develops anticipatory anxiety regarding when will the next attack occur and what caused it.  Believing that the situation in which it previously occurred is the cause, the patient begins avoiding the place or the situation where it originally occurred.

Are you experiencing anxiety attacks?

Looking to find out what causes your anxiety attacks? Call Dr. Hege today for the expertise and relief you need!