Panic Disorder Risk Factors

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Numerous factors have been found to increase the risk of experiencing panic attacks and developing panic disorder and agoraphobia. Though studies have found that certain risk factors are linked to the development of panic disorder, these findings do not mean that they are the causes of panic disorder.

Rather, risk factors for panic disorder describe specific characteristics that are commonly associated with developing the condition. Here are some of the frequently observed risk factors associated with panic disorder.


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.


Women are more prone to developing anxiety disorders than men. Panic disorder, in particular, is more prevalent in women. In fact, women are more than twice the risk for panic disorder than men. Because of this, experts recommend anxiety screening during routine exams for women and girls over the age of 13.


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


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 likely to develop the condition themselves. These numbers can increase depending on the age of onset of the disorder.

If a family member developed panic disorder before the age of 20 years old, first-degree biological relatives are 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 indicated 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, however, 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, and may live with another mental health condition. Other typical co-occurring conditions include:

A person with panic disorder is also at risk of developing agoraphobia, a 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.

If you or a loved one are struggling with panic disorder, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Arlington, VA, American Psychiatric Association, 2013.

  3. National Institute of Mental Health. Panic Disorder.

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By Katharina Star, PhD
Katharina Star, PhD, is an expert on anxiety and panic disorder. Dr. Star is a professional counselor, and she is trained in creative art therapies and mindfulness.