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Causes of Panic Disorder; The Panic Imitator

by Dr. Blumberg on January 17, 2011

Can Caffeinated Coffee Trigger Panic Attacks?

Coffee: To Drink or Not To Drink

Many panic attack victims tell me they have read and been advised that caffeine can trigger panic attacks. In many instances, the panic disorder sufferer has been instructed to eliminate caffeine from their diet to control panic attacks. The ingestion of caffeine has nothing to do with the production of panic attacks.  Caffeine intake can produce increases in arousal symptoms including, accelerated heart rate, jitteriness, and increases in the rate of breathing.  Caffeine does not cause panic attacks. The physical symptoms of caffeine ingestion can resemble some to the physical sensations of a panic attack. That is all. Don’t get tricked by this panic imitator.

Before Panic Strikes

Many panic attack sufferers associate drinking a cup of coffee with the onset of panic attacks. These same individuals comfortably drank several cups of coffee a day before the onset of panic disorder.  What is different now?  Before the development of panic disorder, the coffee drinker expected and accepted the accelerated heart rate, increases in breathing patterns and jitteriness as a natural part of an energizing “wake up call.” The physical sensations were a welcomed energy burst to start up their day.

After Panic Strikes

After that first coffee-panic attack, the view of drinking a cup of coffee changed dramatically. Take a look at the actual thoughts that occur as the post panic coffee drinker begins to sip the morning brew of coffee.  As the coffee drinker starts to drink the cup of coffee, the person thinks, “I hope I don’t have another panic attack from drinking coffee.  What if my body is sensitized to coffee and I have a severe caffeine reaction?”  Now the person is focusing intently on potential dangerous physical changes associated with panic attack symptoms and worried about a severe caffeine reaction.  At the first normal sign of arousal due to caffeine ingestion like accelerated heart rate, the coffee drinker thinks “Oh no! It’s starting again.  What if my heart races out of control” These alarming thoughts set off an alarm in the brain, activating the fight or flight response. Adrenaline pours into the body and the heart races faster.  The vicious cycle of panic takes over.

What Causes Panic Attacks?

It is not the physical symptoms associated with caffeine arousal that sets off a panic attack. The heart acceleration is a normal physiological response to drinking coffee. All coffee drinkers, panic disorder coffee drinkers and coffee drinkers without panic disorder both experience the same accelerated heart rate associated with caffeine intake. What determines whether a cup of coffee is a welcomed wake-up call or a perceived death sentence is the way you interpret the accelerated heart rate.

Panic Attacks Are Triggered By the Misinterpretation of Normal Bodily Sensations

The next time you feel accelerated heart rate after ingesting a cup of coffee, what will you do?  Will you misinterpret the normal physical symptoms as a sign of disaster and race off to the ER?

Or, will you view the accelerated heart rate as a welcomed wake-up call to the start of your day? It is your choice.

Panic Attacks and the Misattribution of Arousal

To Panic or Not: Thinking Makes It So

Panic attacks are created by a misinterpretation of natural normal bodily sensations.  In 1991, The National Institute of Health endorsed Cognitive Behavioral Treatment (CBT) as a stand-alone, highly effective treatment for panic disorder. These treatments focus, in part, on correcting catastrophic misinterpretation of bodily sensations.

Beyond CBT

A comprehensive program for panic disorder must address four phases of training. Phase one delivers CBT to achieve initial relief from panic attacks.  In Phase Two, equal attention is paid to Relapse Prevention to stay panic free.  Finally, the four triggers for panic attacks must be uncovered.  In this phase, the core trigger for “Out of the Blue” panic attacks is discovered, the key to maintaining a panic free life.

The ideas in this blog are developed from Dr Blumberg’s panicLINK Program.  PanicLINK is a comprehensive, twelve session, four phase, multi-media educational program on panic disorder. The material in this Blog and the panicLINK Program are copyright protected by Out of the Blue Network, LLC. No permission is granted to reproduce this blog for commercial purposes. For more information, connect at

*This educational information should be used in consultation with your doctor to confirm a diagnosis and to review available treatments for panic disorder.

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