Panic Disorder Risk Factors

Common Risk Factors Associated with Panic Disorder

Numerous factors have been found to increase the risk of having panic disorder, panic attacks, and agoraphobia. However, these risk factors are not considered the causes of panic disorder. Rather, risk factors for panic disorder describe specific characteristics that are commonly associated with developing this condition.

Common risk factors include a person’s gender, age, medical history, family environment, and life experiences.

Even though studies have found that certain risk factors are linked to the development of panic disorder, it does not mean that they are the causes of panic disorder. Rather, risk factors only indicate a relationship between a mental health disorder and a particular trait.

Listed here is more information on some of the frequently observed risk factors associated with panic disorder.

Age. The age of onset for panic disorder is frequently between late adolescence and early adulthood. Even though panic disorder typically develops between the ages of 18 and 35, it is still possible to occur any time throughout the lifespan. Although far less common, panic disorder can develop in childhood or late adulthood. It is also possible to experience panic disorder on and off across one’s life. For example, a person can have recurring and unexpected panic attacks for several months, followed by several years in which they do not experience any symptoms.

Gender. As mentioned, women are more prone to developing anxiety disorders than men. Panic disorder in particular is even more prevalent in women. Women are at almost twice the risk for panic disorder than men.

Personality. Research has shown that there is some correlation between children with more fearful, anxious, or nervous personality types and later development of panic disorder.

There are some ways that parents can help decrease the risk of their children developing an anxiety disorder. However, the cause of panic disorder is unknown and many mental health specialists agree that it is most likely caused by a complex combination of environmental, biological, and psychological factors.

Family Environment. There are certain family traits that have shown a relationship with panic disorder. In particular, parents who model anxiety, are overly demanding, and expect perfectionism may be at some risk of having children who develop anxiety disorders later in life. However, adults with panic disorder have been raised in various types of homes and family dynamics.

Genetics. There is a strong link between panic disorder and familial patterns. People with a close biological family member with panic disorder are up to 8 times more like to develop the condition themselves. These chances can increase depending on the age of onset of the disorder. For instance, if the family member developed panic disorder before the age of 20 years old, then first-degree biological relatives are then up to 20 times more likely to have panic disorder.

Despite these overwhelming statistics, research has indicated that up to a half or more of people with panic disorder do not have close relatives that have also developed this condition.

Life Events. It has been suggested that stressful life events can contribute to the onset of panic disorder. Stressful life events can include difficult life experiences, such as the death of a loved one, loss of a job, or divorce. Some life transitions that bring a great deal of change to our lives can also cause a lot of stress, such as getting married, moving, having a baby, or retiring. Research has also indicates that experiencing a traumatic event, such as being the victim of physical or sexual abuse, has a higher correlation with panic disorder.

It is also possible to experience panic attacks during a stressful life event, but then never experience them again. For example, a person who is a victim of a crime or experiences a natural disaster may have a panic attack during that event. To be diagnosed with panic disorder, a person would need to have recurrent and unexpected panic attacks.

Co-occurring Conditions. Many people with panic disorder also struggle with feelings of overall worry, anxiety and sadness. Co-occurring mental health conditions, such as depression, are common for those diagnosed with panic disorder. Other typical co-occurring conditions include social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, specific phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A person with panic disorder is also at risk for developing agoraphobia. This condition involves a fear of having a panic attack in a place or situation in which escape would be potentially challenging or humiliating. Agoraphobia can occur at any time following persistent panic attacks. However, a person with panic disorder typically develops agoraphobia within the first year of repeated panic attacks.


American Psychiatric Association. "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed., text revision" 2000 Washington, DC: Author.

Sheikh, J. I. “Lifetime Trauma History and Panic Disorder: Findings From the National Comorbidity Survey" 2002 Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 16(6), 599-603.

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