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How to Tell the Difference Between an Anger Attack and a Panic Attack

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Updated April 27, 2009

It’s not unusual for people who have panic disorder, agoraphobia or another anxiety disorder to experience frustration because of their condition. Sometimes this frustration can develop into anger -- anger toward yourself, anger at your situation or anger toward others.

Researchers have conducted studies on what they term “anger attacks” in depressed and anxious individuals. They conclude that there are certain similarities between anger attacks and panic attacks.

Symptoms of Anger Attacks

According to researchers, anger attacks are characterized by the occurrence of at least 4 of the following symptoms:

  • heart pounding, racing
  • chest pains
  • sweating
  • shaking or trembling
  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • tingling or itching skin
  • fear of losing control
  • intense fear or anxiety
  • hot or cold flashes
  • feeling like attacking others
  • actually attacking others
  • throwing or destroying objects

Symptoms of Panic Attacks

According to the DSM-IV-TR, a panic attack is characterized by four or more of the following symptoms:

  • palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
  • sweating
  • trembling or shaking
  • sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  • feeling of choking
  • chest pain or discomfort
  • nausea or abdominal distress
  • feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
  • feelings of unreality (derealization) or being detached from oneself (depersonalization)
  • fear of losing control or going crazy
  • fear of dying
  • numbness or tingling sensations (paresthesias)
  • chills or hot flushes

The Difference Between Anger Attacks and Panic Attacks

It’s clear to see the similarities between the symptoms of an anger attack and a panic attack. Researchers point out that both produce many of the same sudden and intense physical and emotional sensations. But, they also note some differences. These researchers propose that anger attacks typically occur in situations in which an individual feels emotionally trapped rather than as the result of fear and anxiety that is often associated with panic attacks. In addition, the criteria for anger attacks also include:

  • Irritable feelings in past 6 months
  • Angry overreaction to small irritations
  • 1 or more anger attacks experienced in past month
  • Inappropriate anger directed towards others

If you feel you are experiencing anger attacks, talk to your doctor or mental healthcare provider. In addition to developing an anger management plan, the antidepressant medications used to treat panic attacks also work for anger attacks.

Sources:

Fava M. and Rosenbaum, J.F. (1999). Anger attacks in patients with depression. J Clin Psychiatry, 60 (suppl 15): 21-24.

Fava, M., Anderson, K. and Rosembaum, J.F. (1990). “Anger attacks”: Possible variants of panic and major depressive disorders. Am J Psychiatry, 147:867-870.  

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