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What are the key differences between panic attacks and anxiety attacks

What are the key differences between panic attacks and anxiety attacks (1)

Amid a panic attack or anxiety attack – it is almost impossible for the sufferer to determine which of the mental health conditions they are experiencing since the symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks present in a similar way.

Symptoms associated with panic and anxiety attacks

Some of the following symptoms get associated with anxiety and panic attacks:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Numbness or tingling sensations felt in the body
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Hot flashes


It is evident from these symptoms that anxiety and panic attacks are incredibly frightening and unpleasant for the person going through them.

Accurate diagnosis

For mental health professionals to make an accurate diagnosis – they must thoroughly assess each patient’s symptoms and distinguish just how interchangeable panic attack symptoms and the symptoms associated with an anxiety disorder are.

What is the difference between a panic attack and anxiety attack?

There’s a lot of talk about the terms’’ panic attack’’ and ‘’anxiety attacks’’ on media websites, television, and various local communities.

Despite these discussions, people struggle to understand the difference between panic disorder and anxiety disorder, which means they often get used interchangeably.

In clinical practice, anxiety and panic disorders get identified as having different features, and mental health professionals use these terms to diagnose specific conditions and symptoms.

Clinical practice

When diagnosing specific mental health conditions, psychologists and therapists use the DSM-5, also known as The Diagnostic Statistical Manual, a manual of mental disorders that gets medically reviewed and updated regularly.

Although the symptoms of anxiety disorders and panic disorders feature similarly, the DSM-5, outlines any key distinctions between panic and anxiety attacks, allowing your health provider to make an accurate and informed diagnosis.

Panic disorder

The diagnostic and statistical manual classifies panic attacks under an umbrella term known as panic disorder.

A panic disorder gets observed in other psychiatric conditions too. However, a person can experience panic attacks without any other mental health disorder present.

Anxiety disorder

Anxiety attacks are currently not classified as a disorder under the statistical manual of mental health. 

However, anxiety is a term used to describe a set of features of several mental health illnesses under the umbrella term; anxiety disorder.

Some of the anxiety disorders include:

  • Trauma Disorder
  • Stressor-related disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)


Critical differences between panic and anxiety attacks: Panic attack vs anxiety attack

According to data, the differences between anxiety and panic attacks are the intensity of the symptoms experienced and how long the symptoms occur.

Panic attacks

When a person experiences a panic attack – they usually experience sudden and intense feelings of discomfort, terror and fear – other physical and mental symptoms accompany all of this.

The unpleasant signs and symptoms associated with panic attacks cause severe unease and disruption in a person’s life.

The DSM-5 has identified the following four symptoms that get associated with panic attacks, all of which get characterized as being ”mental’’ and ”physical” symptoms:

Panic attacks usually happen suddenly, and without an exact trigger or external stimulus – they typically last about ten minutes before subsiding, although some panic attacks may last longer.

A person may also experience a succession of panic attacks that occur one after the other. Once the symptoms of a panic attack come to an end – it is not uncommon for a person to feel shaken up, upset, emotional and tired.

Physical symptoms

  • Dizziness, feeling faint or lightheaded and unstable on the feet
  • Stomach trouble and nausea
  • Rapid heart rate and heart palpitations
  • Trembling and shaking
  • Chills and hot flashes
  • Excessive sweating
  • Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
  • A choking sensation
  • Numbness or tingling in the body
  • Feeling as though you might be having a heart attack or other life-threatening disease
  • Chest pain


Mental symptoms

  • Feeling as though you are losing control
  • Feelings of panic and dread
  • Derealization (feelings of unreality)
  • Fearing that you are going crazy or dying
  • Depersonalization (feeling detached from yourself or your surroundings)


Anxiety attacks

Anxiety attacks operate differently to panic attacks – and is a cumulative mental health condition that develops over time.

As mentioned above, panic attacks usually happen suddenly – whilst anxiety intensifies over a long period and gets connected to excessive worry and long-term exposure to stress.

Anxiety symptoms vary and may feel like a panic attack at times, particularly if a person’s stress levels become overwhelming to the point that they feel unable to cope.

Physical symptoms

  • Dizziness
  • Sleep patterns that are disturbed
  • Increased heart rate
  • Fatigue
  • Aches and pains in the body and muscle tension


Mental symptoms

  • Feeling restless
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability


Risk factors

Anxiety is a prevalent mental health disorder that affects around 19.1% of the American population.

It’s a fact that while many people suffer from feelings of anxiety and panic – only 20% of people experiencing symptoms seek help and treatment from a mental health professional.

People must seek treatment for coping with anxiety and panic disorders, particularly as the intense fear, such as fear of dying, caused by anxiety and panic attacks, are conducive to a person’s well being.

Therefore, health information is helpful for people to understand the impact that anxiety and stress have on the body.

When a person experiences anxiety in the long-term, they are likely to be in a state of constant alertness, all of which triggers a fight or flight response making the anxiety symptoms worse.

It is essential for family members to be aware of the symptoms associated with anxiety, and for the anxiety sufferer to seek medical advice from their doctor.

Treatment options

There are plenty of treatment options available to those experiencing anxiety and panic attack symptoms.

Treatment may include various relaxation techniques such as mindfulness and meditation and other forms of therapy – such as:

  • Self-help techniques: All this may include breathwork and various breathing exercises, all of which promote symptom management and a way to manage your feelings and take control.
  • Psychotherapy: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a branch of psychotherapy that is beneficial for anxiety management and controlling the symptoms of anxiety. CBT challenges any unhelpful thoughts that may lead to self-destructive thoughts, feelings and behaviours, allowing a person to adopt healthier coping mechanisms.
  • Medication: Medication is useful in controlling anxiety symptoms and may be used in the short term combined with other therapies.


Getting in touch

At Tikvah Lake Recovery, we specialize in treating a wide range of mental health disorders. Our comprehensive treatment options include:


Contact a member of our team today to find out how we can help you.

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Adam Nesenoff

Adam Nesenoff has been working in recovery for over ten years.

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