1. Health
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Discuss in my forum

Anxiety Attacks Versus Panic Attacks: What's the Difference?

By

Updated May 30, 2014

The terms anxiety attacks and panic attacks are often used interchangeably to mean the same thing. In this sense, the difference is purely a matter of semantics. But from a clinical perspective, panic and anxiety are defined by different features.

The DSM-IV-TR uses the term panic attack to describe the hallmark features associated with panic disorder. The term “anxiety attack” is not defined in the DSM-IV-TR. Rather, anxiety is used to describe a core feature of several illnesses identified under the headline, “Anxiety Disorders.” Disorders under this heading include:

Panic Disorder
Agoraphobia without History of Panic Disorder
Specific Phobia
Social Phobia
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Generalized Anxiety Disorder

The differences between panic and anxiety are best described in terms of the intensity of the symptoms and length of time the predominant symptoms occur.

Panic Attack

During a panic attack, the symptoms are sudden and extremely intense. These symptoms usually occur “out of the blue,” peak within 10 minutes and then subside. However, some attacks may last longer or may occur in succession, making it difficult to determine when one attack ends and another begins.

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

  1. palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
  2. sweating
  3. trembling or shaking
  4. sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  5. feeling of choking
  6. chest pain or discomfort
  7. nausea or abdominal distress
  8. feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
  9. feelings of unreality (derealization) or being detached from oneself (depersonalization)
  10. fear of losing control or going crazy
  11. fear of dying
  12. numbness or tingling sensations (paresthesias)
  13. chills or hot flushes

Anxiety

Anxiety, on the other hand, generally intensifies over a period of time and is highly correlated to excessive worry. The symptoms of anxiety are very similar to the symptoms of panic attacks and may include:

  • Muscle tension
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Increased startle response
  • Increased heart rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness

While some of these symptoms are similar to many of the symptoms associated with panic attacks, they are generally less intense. Another important distinction is that, unlike a panic attack, the symptoms of anxiety may be persistent and very long lasting -- days, weeks or even months.

Whether you’re dealing with panic, persistent anxiety or both, effective treatment is available.

Source:

American Psychiatric Association. "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed., text revision" 2000 Washington, DC: Author.

Related Video
How to Deal With Separation Anxiety
  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Panic Disorder
  4. Panic Disorder Basics
  5. Anxiety Attacks Versus Panic Attacks

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.