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February 7, 2014

Are panic attacks caused by genetics? Perhaps a singular mutated gene, or a host of multiple genes that trigger recurring panic attacks under certain conditions?

The problem with proponents for gene based illnesses and disorders is that they are usually right by accident. No doubt there are certain illnesses and psychological conditions that are caused by mutated genes, but my experience in industry has taught me that this most likely isn’t the case with panic disorder /panic attacks.

First, I say that proponents of the gene theory with panic attacks are right by accidents because our genetic factors play a constant role in our lives, specifically regarding to how we psychologically and physiologically respond to stimuli in our environment.

Even this article which calls for more research into the relationship between genes and panic disorder admits that evidence presented so far has been weak. The article goes on to list the types of studies and their outcomes which have been carried out to discover a link between  genes and panic disorder.

To the extent I believe panic disorder to be genetic is based on the bio psychological disposition of an individual. More specifically, our genetic makeup determines the outcome of what illnesses and issues we are going to experience upon exposure to extreme and prolonged stress. For example, not all soldiers who experience combat develop PTSD, and not all soldiers with combat experience who don’t develop PTSD, go illness free. While PTSD is the most prevalent, other psychological illnesses that arise are obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, etc…

The same phenomenon can be observed with a person whose childhood experience was traumatic. While that person may have developed panic disorder as a result of his or her ordeal, that person’s siblings may also struggle with panic disorder or other psychological illnesses, most commonly drug and alcohol addiction.

I don’t believe that there is a specific gene that causes panic attacks, I believe that panic attacks are a result of the brain improperly wiring itself in response to a prolonged and painful traumatic stressful experience, which results in panic attacks once triggered by certain types of stimuli.


Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.

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