Why do sufferers experience Panic Attacks?
Panic attacks form when Adrenalin, the hormone which prepares us for 'flight or fight' - the primal instinct for self preservation when confronted with real danger, is inappropriately released, usually under the influence of an anxiety disorder.
The 'flight or fight' response is intended to prepare the body to either fight or run from a potential danger (for example a sabre tooth tiger). This response is clearly designed to protect us, however, when an anxiety disorder develops, it artificially re-sets the 'benchmark' anxiety level in the body, inappropriate release of Adrenalin can then cause panic attacks to occur.
When Adrenalin is released and not used up by the 'flight or fight' response, it reaches a level where it can cause many acute panic attack symptoms.
A kind of 're-programming' happens within the part of the brain responsible for maintaining a 'healthy' anxiety level. This happens through behavioural reconditioning called 'Operant Conditioning', where an anxious stimulus causes an anxiety reaction which becomes ingrained in our subconscious, modifying our behaviour.
As we change our behaviour to accommodate the change in anxiety levels, the anxiety increases until the anxiety reaches a level where panic attacks can occur.
It's a frustrating and frightening vicious circle which, with appropriate treatment, can be broken, given the correct approach, support and understanding.