A feeling of impending doom is a sense that something tragic or life threatening is about to happen. It can occur due to mental health or medical conditions.

People may describe a feeling of impending doom as though something bad is about to happen. Sometimes, “a feeling of impending doom” is simply used as a figure of speech. Other times, the feeling can be a sign of a medical condition or a panic attack due to anxiety.

A feeling of impending doom can also occur as a part of other mental health conditions.

This article discusses the reasons a person might experience a feeling of impending doom and the conditions associated with it. It also discusses how a person can manage this feeling and when to contact a healthcare professional.

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A feeling of impending doom is a feeling that something tragic or life threatening is about to happen.

Some people may have this feeling as a symptom before a serious medical event, such as a:

Symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath are common symptoms of a heart attack. However, some people may experience a sinking feeling, such as something bad is about to happen, before physical symptoms occur.

A feeling of impending doom can happen outside of medical events as well. Some people with certain mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder or panic disorder, may feel a sense of impending doom. They may also feel upset and cannot get rid of the feeling or explain it.

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There are various reasons a person may experience a sense of impending doom. These may include mental health conditions and physical causes. However, the research on the exact causes and associated conditions with this feeling is limited.

Mental health conditions

Mental health conditions that may cause a person to feel unsettled, anxious, or a feeling of impending doom include:

Physical causes

While the research on physical causes is limited, certain conditions do list a feeling of impending doom as a symptom or a differential diagnosis.

Some of these conditions include:

  • Anaphylaxis: Anaphylaxis is a severe and potentially life threatening allergic reaction. A symptom of anaphylaxis can be a feeling of impending doom.
  • Intraoperative awareness: It is possible for a person to wake up during surgery. This is known as intraoperative awareness. It occurs when the anesthesia is inadequate for a person to achieve a state of unconsciousness. This can lead a person to experience a sense of doom.
  • Pheochromocytoma: A pheochromocytoma is a rare tumor that forms on the adrenal glands. These glands are located just above the kidneys. The tumor often does not cause symptoms. However, some people may experience a sense of impending doom, heart palpitations, and sweating.
  • Pulmonary embolism (PE): A PE is a blockage of one or more pulmonary arteries. It generally results from a blood clot that travels through the bloodstream to the lungs. Some people do not have symptoms. However, symptoms can include a feeling of impending doom, shortness of breath, chest pain, and irritability.
  • Epilepsy aura: Epilepsy aura” is a term some people use to describe the symptoms they experience just before a seizure. These symptoms are actually focal aware seizures. Symptoms can include intense feelings of fear or joy, feelings of déjà vu, numbness and tingling, and unusual tastes or smells.
  • Heart attack: Some people may experience a sense of fear or doom before the physical symptoms of a heart attack.

A person can experience a feeling of impending doom on its own. However, depending on the underlying cause of the feeling, it may occur with other symptoms.

Other symptoms that may occur alongside a feeling of impending doom include:

  • heart palpitations
  • shortness of breath
  • depersonalization, which is a feeling of being detached from oneself
  • sweating
  • hot flashes
  • tremors or shaking

A person should contact a doctor if they experience a feeling of impending doom that does not go away.

They should also seek immediate medical care if they experience any symptoms of a heart attack, such as:

  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • discomfort in other areas of the body, such as the:
    • arm
    • back
    • jaw

If a person experiences panic attacks or feelings of anxiety that will not go away, they should contact a healthcare or mental health professional.

For some people, a feeling of impending doom can dissipate simply by speaking with a healthcare professional. This can help them know whether a medical condition is causing the feeling.

Treatment may depend on the underlying condition. A healthcare or mental health professional can help a person determine what is causing their feeling of impending doom and create a treatment plan.

The following are some questions people ask about a feeling of impending doom.

Why do I keep getting a feeling of dread?

A recurring feeling of dread might be a person’s body telling them something is wrong. This could be a perceived threat, like feelings of anxiety, or a physical threat, like an oncoming seizure.

Can anxiety feel like something is wrong?

Anxiety can feel like something is “wrong.” Common symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) include:

  • persistent worry
  • feeling restless or on edge
  • irritability

A feeling of impending doom is a sense that something tragic or life threatening is about to happen. The feeling may be from a mental health condition, such as anxiety or bipolar disorder. It may also be an early sign of a medical condition, such as a heart attack or seizure.

If a person experiences a feeling of impending doom that does not go away, they should speak with a healthcare professional. The feeling may dissipate simply by talking with someone.

If an underlying condition is causing the feeling, the healthcare professional can recommend treatment options.