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When do nonphobic panic attacks occur?

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.

Nonphobic panic will occur whenever carbon dioxide (CO2) levels build up. This usually occurs when respiration slows or CO2 builds up due to exercise. Thus spontaneous nonphobic panic will occur during sleep, as one falls asleep, or during relaxation training, because respiration has slowed, allowing CO2 levels to rise. This triggers the overly sensitive suffocation alarm system (solitary nucleus). Patients with this type of panic chronically hyperventilate and sigh, keeping the levels of CO2 low, as a way of preventing sensations of respiratory distress and suffocation.

Interestingly, women are more vulnerable to panic attacks premenstrually and just after childbirth. These are both times when the levels of progesterone drop suddenly. Since progesterone decreases the levels of CO2 in the brain by increasing respiratory rate, the loss of progesterone at these points in time would lead to increased CO2, and more vulnerability to panic.

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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.