Can I Have a Panic Attack for No Reason?

Imagine for a moment that seemingly out of nowhere you are overcome with feelings of fear and dread. You begin to profusely sweat, tremble, and shake. Your heart rate increases as your chest begins to tighten. You notice that it’s difficult to breathe, as it feels as though you are suffocating. All these somatic changes are making you more and more nervous. You wonder if others around you can tell if you’re upset and you worry that you will lose control in front of them.

  You begin to fear that maybe you’ll go insane or that you’re actually experiencing a life-threatening medical issue. Your fear only further intensifies your physical discomfort. You feel a detached sense of self, almost as though you are watching yourself from a distance. Everything starts to seem unreal

This seemingly frightening symptoms can describe what many first time panic attack sufferer experience. These attacks may transpire

The Symptoms of Panic Attacks

As outline in the DSM-5, panic attacks begin with a sense of dread along with 4 or more of the following symptoms:

Panic attack symptoms often heighten within the first 10 minutes before slowly tapering off.

These attacks can fluctuate in intensity and symptoms experienced each time. They can also vary from person to person. Panic attacks can occur any time of day. Nocturnal panic attacks can happen when the person is sound asleep, potentially startling the person into awakening.

Panic Attacks that Occur for No Reason

Panic attacks that occur without any particular reason are called unexpected panic attacks. During these attacks, symptoms take hold despite a lack of cues or triggers in the environment. For example, a person may be having a typical day, such as getting ready and taking a shower, when suddenly panic attack symptoms strike.

Since unexpected panic attacks seem to occur out-of-the-blue, their symptoms are often perceived of as increasingly frightening and often only heighten the sufferers’ levels of fear and anxiety. Unexpected panic attacks are the hallmark characteristic of panic disorder and must occur in order to be diagnosed with this condition.

Panic Attacks Caused By Extreme Fear

Expected attacks will typically have the same symptoms, but they occur in response to a particular environmental trigger or prompted by a certain memory or thought. For instance, people coping with a specific phobia may have a panic attack when faced with the object or situation that generated their extreme fear.

A person with a fear of flying (aerophobia) may have a panic attack while at an airport, while on a plane, or even when simply thinking about flying on an airplane. Similarly, a person dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may have a panic attack when faced with a flashback or situation that reminds the person of the traumatic event.

Getting Treated for Panic Attacks

If you suspect you have experienced any type of panic attack, it is important that you get the assistance you need. Your first step will be to make an appointment with your doctor. Panic attacks can be associated with a variety of mental health conditions, such as agoraphobia, Panic attacks may also be connected to certain medical conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other digestive disorders.

To rule out these and other conditions, your doctor will want to complete an assessment. This will allow your doctor to gather valuable information about your medical history and current symptoms. Such information will provided your doctor a clearer picture of what you are experiencing, making her better able to provide an accurate diagnosis. Once diagnosed, you can expect to work closely with your doctor and necessary professionals to develop ways to cope with your panic attacks.


American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

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