Panic attacks can happen to anyone, and there are many different causes of panic attacks. Panic attacks might be tied to other medical conditions, specific phobias or anxiety disorders such as social anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder, or directly to panic disorder. Understanding the different types of panic attacks can help you and your doctor determine the cause of your attacks and the best way to go about treating them.
Cued Panic Attacks
For many people who experience panic attacks, there are specific situations or places that trigger these attacks. They never have panic attacks when these feared triggers are not present, and this might lead them to go out of their way to avoid their triggers. If someone suffers from social anxiety, for example, their panic attacks are likely to occur in performance situations, at social gatherings, or when they are faced with meeting a new person. They never experience panic attacks when they are alone or with close friends. If someone has an intense fear of airplanes, riding on an airplane might trigger a panic attack, but they wouldn’t experience panic attacks in any other situation.
Situationally-Predisposed Panic Attacks
Certain situations or places could make someone with panic disorder or another anxiety disorder more likely to have a panic attack, but they might not always have panic attacks in these situations or places. They don’t have a specific fear or phobia tied to that situation or place; they simply tend to experience panic attacks when there. Someone with panic disorder might occasionally experience panic attacks while driving. They don’t have panic attacks every time they drive, and they don’t have a specific fear of driving itself. Driving simply increases their chances of having a panic attack.
Spontaneous Panic Attacks
This type of panic attack can happen anywhere, anytime, and without any warning. Spontaneous panic attacks are not related to any specific situation, event, or place. They literally happen completely spontaneously. Because they happen without warning and they’re not triggered by a specific fear, they’re often mistaken for a heart attack or “going crazy.”
A good number of people will experience one or two spontaneous panic attacks in their lifetime. If you experience a single spontaneous panic attack, it is likely that you do not need to seek treatment for panic disorder. However, if you experience repeated panic attacks over and extended period of time, either spontaneously or in relations to another form of anxiety disorder, you might have panic disorder, which can be treated by your doctor.