What is the Relationship Between Panic Disorder and Pregnancy?

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  • Written By: Lindsey Rivas
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 03 October 2019
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The relationship between panic disorder and pregnancy is that pregnancy can increase the frequency and severity of panic attacks. Some people suffer from panic disorder prior to getting pregnant, and the life change triggers more attacks, while others develop it during the pregnancy because of hormonal imbalances. The combination of panic disorder and pregnancy can be troublesome because if the disorder is left untreated, it can be harmful to both the mother and the fetus. Rapid heartbeat, feeling short of breath, and irrational fear are all symptoms of a panic attack. Treatment of the condition includes behavior therapy, relaxation, and possibly medication.

Panic disorder and pregnancy can be a common association. Women who had panic attacks prior to pregnancy often find that the attacks become more frequent and severe during pregnancy. This can be due in part to having to stop medication or switching to a lower dosage that is safe for pregnancy. The many fears that emerge while pregnant can also lead to attacks, such as fears about being a parent and the health of the baby. Panic disorder might also develop if the pregnancy is unexpected or unwanted.

Additionally, hormonal changes or imbalances can link panic disorder and pregnancy. Hormone imbalances can cause mood swings, stress, depression, and anxiety. All of those factors can bring about panic attacks. Also, in late stages of pregnancy, an increase in serotonin production can lead to more severe attacks for those with a panic disorder.


There are several adverse effects with a combination of panic disorder and pregnancy. The fetus can become distressed, which slows development and weakens the immune system. There is greater risk for preterm labor, low birth weight, and illness. It can also impair fetal movement and lower the Apgar score. The effects of panic disorder on the mother include increased risk of pre-eclampsia, cesarean section, and premature membrane rupture. It can also lead to postpartum depression and difficulty bonding with the baby.

Symptoms that arise from the relationship between panic disorder and pregnancy can be both physical and emotional. One might have a rapid, pounding heartbeat, chest pain, shortness of breath, and dizziness. Further symptoms are sweating accompanied by chills or hot flashes, shaking or trembling, and numbness in the fingers and limbs. Emotional signs include irrational fear, feelings of inadequacy and loss of control, and a sense of being detached from reality.

One should seek medical help if she has the combination of panic disorder and pregnancy. Typical treatment involves behavior therapy, learning positive thinking, and relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation. A doctor might also prescribe medication in situations when the risks to the mother and fetus from anxiety outweigh the risks from drugs.


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