What are the types of panic attack?

The prevailing theory of panic disorder states that there are two types of panic attacks, non-phobic spontaneous panic and triggered panic attacks. Nonphobic panic attacks are thought to be the result of abnormal over-sensitivity of a brain alarm system whose function is to detect early signs of suffocation. This theory is called the suffocation alarm theory.

Trigger induced or phobic panic is the more common type, and is fear induced. It is manifested primarily by symptoms of pounding heart (palpitations), sweating, and trembling (remember that nonphobic panic starts with a subjective sense of suffocation or breathlessness). In this type of panic the locus coeruleus is activated by a real situation of perceived (thought) threat of death or separation. Sometimes it can be triggered by an unconscious awareness of a cue that is linked to a previously dangerous situation. For example, a person who was raped at a young age may have repressed the memory. When a cue which was noticed and associated with the rape activates the amygdala (rage/fear/sex) nucleus of the brain, it activates the locus coeruleus before the person even is conscious of why she is feeling that way! The locus coeruleus can be activated by the threat of separation from the group, an individual one is emotionally or physically dependent on, or life itself. This separation alarm triggers the flight or fight response with release of noradrenalin (more commonly called norepinephrine) in the brain and adrenalin (epinephrine) in the body. According to Donald Klein, fear induced panic activates the stress response system (the hypothalamic pituitary hormonal axis) immediately.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.