there are many types of panic attacks, and although most of these are associated with stage performances, public speaking, or an actual frightening event, there are some that suddenly come from nowhere, for no apparent reason.

These unprovoked and acutely distressing sudden panic attacks effect over 3 million people in the US, and are considered a psychiatric condition called anxiety disorder. Medical scientists are working to understand the complex origins of these sudden panic attacks.

The symptoms are often acute and sudden, with the stigma of a having nothing but an unmanageable emotion or feeling to describe the attack. Despite causing the paralyzing terror, people experiencing the conditions can be seen as psychosomatic, or “all in the head”.

for the person going through these attacks, however, the physical symptoms are very real and highly distressing:

  • Racing or pounding heartbeat
  • Chest pains
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • Hot flushes
  • Sudden drop in temperature, or chills

Anxiety and full panic attack causes have been studied extensively, yet with no strong conclusions as to what the single reason may be.

there are some potential causes that are supported by studies and may be the reason for these attacks, depending on the circumstances:

1.    One study suggests people who experience panic attacks may be hypersensitive to external changes such as carbon dioxide levels in the environment. This is a subconscious detection that may trigger deep internal natural reactions, such as a wave of extreme fear from a sensation of strangulation or suffocation due to the increase of CO2. The “false suffocation alarm” theory proposed by Donald F. Klein4 in 1993 is the closest to being accepted by scientists.

2.    Another study suggests, for people with anxiety or panic attacks, especially if there is also depression, there is often a correlation that shows in low levels of serotonin. Serotonin, is a vital neurotransmitter, also known as 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HTP). The amount of serotonin in the brain depends strongly on the levels and dietary intake of tryptophan and 5-HTP. In patients with clinical depression and anxiety, 5-HTP dramatically reduced symptoms, in a similar action to the antidepressant Prozac, but without the side effects. Nocturnal panic attacks that wake people during the night can actually be a sign of a sleep disorder. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), sleep-related gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), sleep-related laryngospasms, and sleep-related seizures can cause people to wake from sleep with symptoms of a panic attack. Some people have seizures only during sleep. Seizures that begin in the temporal lobe can give sudden rise to feelings of the same doom, fear, or panic of a panic attack. Tests need to be run to determine if GERD, sleep apnea, seizures or acidity are causing these problems. Monitoring the pH of the lower esophagus can pick up the presence of acidity from digestive fluids flowing from the stomach into the esophagus. Sleep studies can determine if a person has sleep apnea and needs a CPAP or sleep apnea prevention dental bite blocks that have shown to improve sleep quality.

Homeopathic remedies work well to counteract the sudden panic attacks and anxiety and have shown to be as effective as antidepressants in trials and studies. In the small group studies 60% of participants with major social phobias and extreme anxiety disorders responded favorably to the homeopathic remedies. For mild attacks and occasional attacks Aconite napellus (acon.) works well, and can be used for waves of fear, rapid onset, intense symptoms of agitation and panic. This remedy can also work for shock such as following an accident or natural disaster. Aconite can also be used for lingering anxiety following a past event. Argentum nitricum (Arg-n.) is good for apprehension and nervousness from apprehension over an upcoming event or the future, especially for people who crave sweet things or feel the effects of heat. Many more homeopathic remedies can help with anxiety and panic, and since homeopathy needs to be personalized to ensure the correct remedy is applied to the individual situations.

Improved lifestyle habits, meditation and breathing exercises can help as well as improved sleep quality. Diet, exercise, weight control and general health play an important part in preventing the disorders such as panic and anxiety.

Please check with qualified practitioners for personalized advice.


Sally Warren, PhD Naturopathic Doctor
Metro Integrative Pharmacy

This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition. The information in this article is for educational purposes only.