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A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.

It is possible to develop panic disorder with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing panic disorder is. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.

Age

Panic disorder typically develops between the ages of 15-24, especially for men. However, it can also begin in the 30s and 40s, especially for women. The prevalence of panic disorder seems to be increasing in younger generations.

Gender

Panic disorder is twice as common in women as in men. Pregnancy can either improve the condition or make it worse. Panic disorder with agoraphobia is more common in women, too. More than 75% of severe agoraphobics are women.

Family History

There is some evidence that panic disorder and other anxiety disorders tend to run in families. Many studies have shown that panic disorder is common among first-degree relatives of people with panic disorder. Family dynamics, such as overprotective behaviors and failure to learn effective coping skills, may play a role in panic disorder.

Stressful Events in Susceptible People

The initial appearance of panic attacks often follows a highly stressful event, such as, history of childhood sexual or physical abuse, being the victim of a crime, or the loss of a job, loved one, or important relationship.

Increased Sensitivity to Physical Sensations

This occurs when the circuits in the brain take normal events or surroundings and exaggerates them, creating a sense of anxiety. These feelings of anxiety can heighten into repeated panic attacks.

Anxious Temperament

A method of approaching or thinking about ordinary situations and exaggerating them to a point where the body physically reacts to them. The physical response to the anxiety contributes to the onset of panic attacks.

Having Another Mental Disorder

If you have another mental disorder, such as depression, alcoholism, or drug abuse, your risk of developing panic disorder is increased.

Smoking

Studies show that cigarette smoking during adolescence and young adulthood contribute to an increased risk of having panic attacks and other anxiety disorders.

Revision Information

  • Answers to your questions about panic disorder. American Psychological Association website. Available at: http://www.apa.org/topics/anxiety/panic-disorder.aspx. Accessed November 26, 2013.

  • Panic disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated February 28, 2013. Accessed November 26, 2013.