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Panic attacks: what they are and what to do about them
Panic attacks: what they are and what to do about them

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2 How can panic attacks be understood?

Described image
Figure 3 Panic attacks can appear suddenly and unexpectedly, like a tornado out of a blue sky

Seeing a tornado hurtling towards you, you would probably not be surprised if you felt scared, or experienced your heart beating fast. However, in panic disorder, the panic can appear to emerge suddenly, without any apparent trigger, and so apparently without cause.

So why do they occur? The next section examines some key ideas about what causes panic attacks. There has been a lot of research on this topic – and lots of different theories put forward, including the idea that a person’s genetics, or biology, may play a role. One really important idea though is that the way a person thinks about their experience of panic is key. This is known as a cognitive theory of panic disorder.