Read below about fear of dying, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your fear of dying from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

This symptom can also be referred to as:
Afraid of dying
Afraid to die

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Fear of Dying Symptoms

Symptoms that can be associated with fear of dying include:

Fear of Dying Causes Overview

Panic attacks

Panic attacks are one of the most common causes of a sudden fear of dying. A panic attack is characterized by an intense fear of dying or going crazy along with physical symptoms associated with anxiety, such as palpitations, sweating, difficulty breathing, chest pain, and tingling. The attack is short lasting, with the worst symptoms occurring within a few minutes. There are several causes of panic attacks.

  • Medical conditions : Certain medical problems, including neurological, cardiac, respiratory, and hormonal conditions, can trigger panic attacks.
  • Substance use : Stimulants such as caffeine and recreational drugs can lead to panic attacks, as can withdrawal from alcohol and some other substances.
  • Psychological disorders : Recurring panic attacks that are not related to a medical condition or substance use may be due to panic disorder or another type of anxiety disorder. Panic attacks can also happen in other types of psychiatric disorders, such as severe depression.

Medical emergencies

Certain serious medical conditions can cause a fear that something terrible, including death, is about to happen. This symptom is sometimes called a "sense of impending doom." A heart attack or serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) can cause a sense of impending doom. Other symptoms will be present, such as chest pain and difficulty breathing.

Medication side effect

Some medications can cause a sense of impending doom as a rare side effect. These include the antibiotic penicillin and some drugs used for anesthesia.

Chronic or terminal illness

Fear of death is common after receiving a diagnosis of a terminal or chronic illness. Anxiety may be focused on leaving family and friends behind, regrets about life events, or fears about what will happen during and after death.

3 Potential Fear of Dying Causes

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.

  1. 1.Panic Disorder

    Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder. It causes panic attacks, which are sudden feelings of terror without true danger. One may feel as if they are losing control or have physical symptoms like sweating or a racing heart.

    Chronic with relapses

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    anxiety, abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea, stomach bloating, depressed mood
    Symptoms that always occur with panic disorder:
    anxiety
    Symptoms that never occur with panic disorder:
    agoraphobia
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

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  2. 2.Panic or Anxiety Attack(s)

    Panic or anxiety attacks are sudden feelings of intense fear or stress without true danger. Symptoms usually peak and then decrease within minutes. One may feel as if they are losing control or have physical symptoms like sweating or a racing heart. A panic attack can be a very scary experience and should be taken seriously.

    Depending on recurrence

    Rarity:
    Common
    Symptoms that always occur with panic or anxiety attack(s):
    anxiety or anxiety/panic attacks
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.Cardiac Tamponade

    Cardiac tamponade is pressure on the heart that occurs when blood or fluid builds up in the space between the heart muscle (myocardium) and the outer covering sac of the heart (pericardium).

    Indefinite

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    being severely ill, fast heart rate in adults, fear of dying, restlessness
    Symptoms that always occur with cardiac tamponade:
    being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service

Fear of Dying Treatments and Relief

Fear of dying is often part of a panic attack that will subside on its own. However, fear of dying can rarely be a sign of a serious medical problem that can be imminently dangerous. In addition, many of the symptoms of a panic attack can be signs of a medical emergency, and it can be hard to tell the difference without consulting a medical professional.

Seek emergency treatment if:

  • You are having difficulty breathing.
  • You have a feeling of chest pain or pressure.
  • You have been exposed to an allergen that previously caused anaphylaxis.
  • You feel confused or like you are going to lose consciousness.

In some cases, even though emergency care isn't necessary, you may need evaluation and treatment. Make an appointment with your medical provider if:

  • Your fear of dying is staying the same or getting worse over time.
  • You are having recurrent panic attacks.
  • You have physical symptoms such as weight loss, trembling, or palpitations.
  • Your fear of dying started after a diagnosis of a serious medical condition.
  • You are struggling with addiction.

Your medical provider may prescribe one or more of the following treatments, depending on the cause of your fear of dying symptoms:

  • If you have a terminal illness, you may be referred to a palliative care physician for symptom management and discussion of goals of care for the end of life.
  • Treatment for an underlying medical condition that is triggering panic attacks, or referral to a specialist as needed.
  • A therapy program to learn techniques for alleviating anxiety symptoms and avoiding panic attacks. Therapy may include controlled exposure to situations that have caused panic attacks in the past, as well as relaxation techniques.
  • Medical and/or therapeutic treatment for substance addiction.

There are some things you can try on your own to help with fear of dying.

  • Avoid nicotine, caffeine, and recreational drugs, which can trigger panic attacks.
  • Talk with a close friend, family member, or spiritual advisor about your fears.
  • Exercising for 20 minutes at a time three times per week has been shown to help with anxiety.
  • Meditation and yoga can help you manage anxiety and avoid panic attacks.
  • Try attending a support group designed for people who struggle with anxiety.

FAQs About Fear of Dying

Here are some frequently asked questions about fear of dying.

Is it normal to be scared of dying?

Some amount of fear about dying is normal and experienced by most people. This fear often starts in childhood or adolescence and varies over time. Concerns about dying commonly becomes more pronounced in the setting of a serious illness or terminal diagnosis. The fear may encompass worries about leaving family members behind and anxiety about the actual process of dying. You should see a healthcare provider if your fear of death is distressing to you and/or severe enough to interfere with daily functioning.

Can feeling scared that you are dying be a sign of a real medical problem?

A few dangerous medical conditions can cause a “sense of impending doom,” meaning the fear that something terrible, including death, is about to happen. This may occur in the setting of anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction caused by an allergy. It can also be a symptom of a heart attack. Seek immediate medical attention if your fear is accompanied by difficulty breathing, chest pain/pressure, or dizziness.

What kinds of psychological disorders can cause fear of dying?

One of the most common causes of a sudden fear of dying is a panic attack, which can occur in multiple types of anxiety disorders. These include panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and phobias (fears of a specific object or situation). Panic attacks can sometimes occur in other types of mental illness, such as depression. Fear of dying can also be associated with substance use disorders, since use of or withdrawal from some recreational drugs can trigger panic attacks.

Can fear of dying be a sign of a panic attack?

Yes, fear of dying is a common sign of a panic attack. Other associated symptoms include fear of going crazy, sweating, difficulty breathing, and palpitations. Typically the fear of dying and other symptoms become most intense within a few minutes and then start to improve. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a panic attack and a medical emergency since the symptoms overlap.

How can I feel less scared of dying?

Talking with your healthcare provider or spiritual leader may be helpful, especially if you are struggling with a serious illness. If panic attacks are the cause of your fear, there are multiple treatments available. Your healthcare provider can carry out diagnostic testing to make sure there isn’t an underlying medical problem causing panic attacks, and can start a medication and/or refer you to therapy for an anxiety disorder. Cutting out substances such as caffeine, nicotine, and recreational drugs can also be helpful.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Fear of Dying

  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.Do you currently smoke?
  • Q.Are you feeling irritable (easily made upset)?
  • Q.Are your symptoms causing difficulty at work, socializing, or spending time with friends & family?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our fear of dying symptom checker to find out more.

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Fear of Dying Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced fear of dying have also experienced:

    • 8% Anxiety
    • 3% Rib Pain
    • 3% Fatigue
  • People who have experienced fear of dying were most often matched with:

    • 19% Panic Disorder
    • 2% Cardiac Tamponade
    • 1% Panic or Anxiety Attack(s)
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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