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What Happens In The Brain During A Panic Attack

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Introduction To Emotional Processing

Anxiety – #3 What Happens in the Body during a Panic Attack

Mood and anxiety disorders are characterized by a variety of neuroendocrine, neurotransmitter, and neuroanatomical disruptions. Identifying the most functionally relevant differences is complicated by the high degree of interconnectivity between neurotransmitter- and neuropeptide-containing circuits in limbic, brain stem, and higher cortical brain areas. Furthermore, a primary alteration in brain structure or function or in neurotransmitter signaling may result from environmental experiences and underlying genetic predisposition; such alterations can increase the risk for psychopathology.

The Effects Of Anxiety On The Body

Anxiety is a normal part of life. For example, you may have felt anxiety before addressing a group or in a job interview.

In the short term, anxiety increases your breathing and heart rate, concentrating blood flow to your brain, where you need it. This very physical response is preparing you to face an intense situation.

If it gets too intense, however, you might start to feel lightheaded and nauseous. An excessive or persistent state of anxiety can have a devastating effect on your physical and mental health.

Anxiety disorders can happen at any stage of life, but they usually begin by middle age. Women are more likely to have an anxiety disorder than men, says the National Institute of Mental Health .

Stressful life experiences may increase your risk for an anxiety disorder, too. Symptoms may begin immediately or years later. Having a serious medical condition or a substance use disorder can also lead to an anxiety disorder.

There are several types of anxiety disorders. They include:

The Biochemistry Of Panic

Are panic attacks biological or mental? What causes anxiety and stress and creates a panic attack? Find out here.

Many people who have problems with anxiety and stress seem to have a heightened sensitivity to the environment and react more strongly to the stimuli around them. In some people, there may exist what’s called a “deficit in their stimulus barrier,” in other words, noises, action, movement, smells and sights in their surroundings may be more difficult for them to shut out than it is for most people.

Well, this would seem to suggest that panic attacks are biological in nature. Yet everything we’ve discussed so far has pointed to environmental and developmental causes of panic attacks. Could it be a combination of the two?

Are Panic Attacks Biological or Mental?

There are those who would make the argument that panic disorder is solely a biological phenomenon, whereas others would take the opposite stance and contend that panic is related solely to environment and developed personality traits.Most practicing psychotherapists tend to view a problem like panic disorder as being related to both human anatomy and human psychology. The interplay between inherited genetic trends, brain chemistry and a given character style in a given environment is what creates a panic attack. For further evidence to support the biochemistry side of the argument, let’s look at the crucial anatomical components.

Genetics of Panic:

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Is Panic Disorder Caused By A Chemical Imbalance

Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

You may have heard that mental health conditions are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, but what exactly does that mean? The term “chemical imbalance” is shorthand for the complex balance of neurotransmitter systems in the brain required for the maintenance of mental health.

The following describes the chemical imbalance theory and other potential factors that may influence the development of panic disorder.

Are Certain People Predisposed To Panic Attacks

Category: Stress

Now why do people develop panic disorder / attacks? The main culprit seems to be disruptions in GABA neurotransmitter system which is involved in A LOT of human emotions and reactions. GABA is a name for a specific transmitter in your brain, that carries message from one neuron cell to another, telling the brain to do certain things. The things that might contribute to these changes in the GABA system include your temperament , the adversity youve faced in your childhood, life stress and then genetics in the general sense.

Ive had people tell me its a glitch in the fight-or-flight response, that my brain is unable to process the stress being placed on it, my body is dumping its supply of adrenaline

Thats how most panic attacks work. Andrenaline increases your heart and breathing rate in preperation for extreme physical exertion. Since you typically dont exert yourself, you wind up with secondary symptoms, like shaking, lightheadedness, and low blood sugar. This discomfort can induce stress in and of itself, prolonging the attack.

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Physical Symptoms May Include Four Or More Of These:

– Feeling unnerved or restless

3. Your body starts the changes almost 45 minutes before the panic attack. Since your body has to prepare for the ‘red alert’, research shows that the physical symptoms can begin;as early as about 45 minutes before the;panic attack. This including sweating, lower-than-normal levels of carbon dioxide and breathlessness.;

4. Studies are still being conducted to find out what happens to your;brain;and why you have a panic attack. And while every person might have a different trigger – in regard to their fears and phobias that trigger the ‘fight or flight’ response. Another reason behind panic attacks is said to be the chemicals in your brain. The condition may also be linked to an imbalance in serotonin levels, which can affect your mood.;

5. When you have a panic attack, look for a safe space.;Either stop at a spot you’re familiar with and sit down, or find someone who can help you and physically hold on to them. Focussing on your breathing is very important, breathe in and out to regain control. Rub your hands together or on your knees, or rub your head and relax your muscles. Many people say that closing their eyes helps them focus on other senses such as – touch, smell, sound and feel. But again, different things work for different people. Some find it best to not do anything at all and let the panic wash over them likes waves at a beach – and patiently wait for it to subside.;

What Should I Do During An Anxiety Attack

If you suffer frequent anxiety attacks, you might consider looking for some of the top anxiety treatment centers. However, amid a panic attack, you might not have access to professional medical care. What do you do when the panic starts to set in, and you feel hopeless.

Luckily, there are plenty of techniques that can reduce the severity of your panic attacks and help you manage your symptoms. Panic attacks are downright terrifying and they are even worse when you feel like you dont have any help.

This article discusses the various ways you can manage your panic attacks so they dont cause significant damage to aspects of your life. Continue reading to learn more about panic-reducing techniques you can use if you find yourself during a panic attack.

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This Is What Happens To Your Brain During A Panic Attack According To Science

Each year, six million Americans experience at least one panic attack, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. As an anonymous person said in a Huffington Post article about panic attacks: “It feels like being trapped and suffocated, as if the building was on fire with no escape. It feels urgent and frightening.”

Panic attacks are sudden episodes of almost uncontrollable and inescapable fear or anxiety, and are characterized by sweating, a rapid heart rate, shortness of breath and the feeling of choking, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

But rather than being due to “weakness in character,” scientists have discovered that panic disorders are actually caused by a brain abnormality in which a chemical messenger that deals with emotion doesn’t work properly, according to the New York Times. During a panic attack, the brain and also the nervous system become responsible for the symptoms felt, according to Scientific American.

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Stress and anxiety causes the nervous system to flare up, and in attempts to calm down, the parasympathetic system goes into action. However, if it fails to do so, the person will continue to feel revved up.

Many people are still not properly treated for anxiety, and panic attacks can get worse with time, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Genetic Contribution To Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Understanding Panic Attacks: Part 1 – What Happens During A Panic Attack

Overall the genetic contribution is thought to be less substantial in GAD than in other anxiety disorders. Studies have shown that first-degree relatives of GAD probands have elevated rates of mood and anxiety disorders in general and perhaps have a specifically increased risk for GAD. A recent study of more than 3000 twin pairs found modest familial aggregation of GAD with equal heritability in males and females in same-sex or opposite-sex twin pairs; there was no evidence for gender-specific genetic underpinnings of GAD. Results from twin studies estimate that approximately 32% of the variance for liability to GAD is caused by additive genetics in male and female twins and that the remaining variance is explained by environment specific to the individual, rather than the shared environment of the twin pair . Only a handful of genetic-association studies specific for GAD have been reported, and all are thus far unreplicated .

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What Happens After A Panic Attack

What happens after a panic attack is almost as important as what happens during a panic attack. Thats particularly true if you dont have panic attacks often, or if you recently had your first one.

For the most part, nothing happens after a panic attack. The individual gradually recovers, and they go on with life as normal, with no lasting consequences.

While panic attacks havent been linked to the likelihood of more severe conditions like;heart health complications,;chronic stress has been. If you had your panic attack because of an isolated event, like receiving bad news, you might never have a panic attack again.

However, if you feel that your panic attack was the result of a mental health condition like anxiety that could cause continued stress, consider talking to a mental health professional. You might also want to make a list of things that have caused panic attacks in the past so that you can help a mental health professional narrow down your triggers to get a prompt and accurate diagnosis if necessary.

For more information about how talking with a licensed and professional therapist or counselor can help you to manage panic attacks, have fewer of them, or just have less stress in your life, visit;BetterHelp.

Take A Deep Breath

Hopefully, this article has helped you understand what causes panic attacks and what they mean for your mind and body.

How Is Panic Disorder Diagnosed

Medical or mental health providers can diagnose panic disorder. Your provider may diagnose panic disorder when you have repeated panic attacks and you:

  • Persistently worry about having more panic attacks or their consequences.
  • Obsess about losing control during a panic attack.
  • Change your behaviors to avoid situations that may trigger a panic attack.

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What Is Happening To The Body

Often one of the first symptoms of a panic attack is hyperventilating , which upsets the natural balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in our system. One view says a low level of carbon dioxide in the blood directly triggers the symptoms of panic, such as feeling lightheaded and dizzy. When we breathe quickly we also build up oxygen in our blood. Paradoxically, too much oxygen is also associated with feeling short of breath.

Hyperventilation causes many of the other symptoms of a panic attack such as dizziness, blurred vision, tingling, muscle tension, chest pain, heart rate increases, nausea and temperature changes.

People who experience panic misinterpret the bodily signs of hyperventilation as indicating immediate physical danger and believe they have little control over the symptoms. When we then say things to ourselves such as I might be having a heart attack and I cant cope with this, the anxiety gets worse.

In a 2013 study, researchers showed when people with no history of panic inhaled air with increased carbon dioxide they reported fear, discomfort and panic symptoms. People with a history of panic attack experience these symptoms at lower concentrations of carbon dioxide, suggesting they are hypersensitive to this internal signal for danger.

What Happens To Your Brain When Anxiety Attacks

Anatomy of Anxiety

Do you remember the last time you experienced stomach cramps, difficulty in breathing, a rapid heart rate, dizziness, the sense of dread or uncontrollable fear? These are the normal biological symptoms of the panic brought on by anxiety.

Most people feel anxious about situations in their life, such as financial problems, relationship issues or exams that can be temporary and may fade away with time. However, some people having GAD feel a stronger sense of panic or fear than other people and find it hard to control it. In such a condition, anxiety becomes a serious problem and affects their well-being or everyday activities. But, the key is to understand why anxiety occurs, how is it different from stress, what it does to your brain, and how can you deal with it when it takes hold.

What Exactly Anxiety Is, and How It Differs from Stress

Although an anxiety attack does evoke the same flight, freeze or fight emotions that stress does, there are differences between the two. Stress is a response of external influences that you are finding difficult to handle, while anxiety is an internal response that arises because of stress.

You can know the triggers or causes of stress, but it is not always simple to figure out the causes of anxiety. Also, stress normally disappears after the troublesome situation is over, but anxiety persists for months or even years. Therefore, anxiety is more difficult to manage and hence considered as a legitimate psychological disorder.


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Anxiety And Brain Activation

There are two different parts to an anxiety disorder, and someone with anxiety may suffer from one or both. The first part is mental verbal worries, nervous thoughts, etc. The second part of anxiety is physical. For example, a racing heartbeat, panic attacks, lightheadedness, and other physical symptoms.

It’s possible to experience physical symptoms with less worry, and it’s possible to worry often without many physical symptoms. Researchers also found that both of these excited different parts of the brain. Those with worried thoughts showed more left brain activity when nervous. Those with physical symptoms experienced more right brain activity.

Another study looked at the way that those with a spider phobia reacted to the belief that they were going to encounter a spider. They found that those with the phobia had their dorsal anterior cingulate cortex , insula, and thalamus become more active than those without a phobia.

Yet another study at the University of Wisconsin Madison found that those with generalized anxiety disorder appeared to have a weaker connection between the white matter area of the brain and the prefrontal and anterior cortex. This was compared to those without generalized anxiety disorder and the results appeared to be significant.

These are just some of the ways that anxiety can activate the brain.

The Chemical Imbalance Theory

According to chemical imbalance theories, panic disorder symptoms can be attributed to imbalances in naturally occurring chemical messengers in the brain, known as neurotransmitters. These help communicate information between nerve cells brain throughout the brain.

The human brain is thought to have hundreds of these different types of neurotransmitters, and chemical imbalance theories suggest that a person can become more susceptible to developing panic disorder symptoms if one or more of these neurotransmitters do not remain balanced.

The neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid are specifically believed to be linked to mood and anxiety disorders. These neurotransmitters are in charge of regulating various bodily and mental functions.

First, serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is largely associated with mood, sleep, appetite, and other regulatory functions in the body. Experts have also found that reduced levels of serotonin are connected to depression and anxiety.

The neurotransmitter dopamine may also contribute to symptoms. Dopamine influences, among other functions, a persons energy levels, attention, rewards, and movement.

Norepinephrine is also related to anxiety as it released in the fight-or-flight response, or they physiological response to stress. Last, GABA plays a role in balancing excitement or agitation and inducing feelings of calm and relaxation through its inhibitory effect.

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How Are Panic Attacks Diagnosed

Serious health problems, such as heart disease, thyroid disease and respiratory problems, cause symptoms similar to panic attacks. Your healthcare provider may run tests to rule out a physical problem. If theres no physical cause, your provider may make a diagnosis based on your symptoms and risk factors.

Neurotransmitter And Neuroendocrine Signaling In Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

What Does a Panic Attack Actually Do To Your Body?

Amino acid neurotransmitters

Glutamate plays a critical role in hippocampal-dependent associative learning and in amygdala-dependent emotional processing in stressful conditions or following stress exposure. Inappropriate glutamate signaling therefore could contribute to the processing distortion experienced by many patients who have PTSD. In support of the glutamate hypothesis of PTSD, the N-methyl-D-aspartic acid receptor antagonist ketamine is well known for its ability to induce dissociative and perceptual distortions, similar to the processing distortion in patients who have PTSD .

Recent research has explored the possible therapeutic potential of glutamatergic targets in PTSD. One such drug is the anticonvulsant topiramate. Topiramate inhibits excitatory transmission at kainate and α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazole propionate receptors and has demonstrated anxiolytic properties at lower doses than required for anticonvulsant effects, suggesting a unique mechanism of action. Open-label studies using topiramate as either adjunctive or monotherapy have demonstrated some efficacy in diminishing nightmares and flashbacks and in improving overall PTSD symptoms.



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