Panic and anxiety aren’t always caused by something in your head. Physical illness can play an important role, too.

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The opinions expressed herein are the guest’s alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have a question about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Question: I was wondering if it is possible for a chronic illness to bring about panic attacks. I am 23 and have been ill for a year. I was diagnosed with a digestive disease that leaves me feeling fatigued and ill all day, every day. ... I wonder if it is possible that the slightest amount of anxiety is making my stomach uneasy due to my already bad condition, or if I am having panic attacks.

Answer: Chronic illness can certainly bring on both anxiety and depression, depending on a few different circumstances. For instance, you have a digestive problem that could cause your body to become deficient in certain nutrients, and that can affect how you feel, both physically and mentally. The illness, itself, can have an effect on your body in terms of how it functions, and all of this has a feedback loop to your emotions.

So it stands to reason that you would be feeling anxious and that you would also feel better in your comfort zone. How are your doctors suggesting this be handled? I think that you might want to have a few sessions with a psychologist who specializes in medical illnesses to be able to discuss what’s happening and how you can take steps to keep yourself involved in life.

Patricia A. Farrell, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist, researcher, and educator and is a medical consultant for the New Jersey Division of Disability Determination of Social Security.

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