Often you get to hear these two terms, anxiety attack and panic attack, being used interchangeably by behavior health professionals in a nearly similar situation. This may prompt you to think they share meaning. Anxiety and panic attacks differ in features like the intensity and how long the seizure lasts.

Therefore, they are used differently to refer to specific behavior symptoms and disorders, with each attack having its unique symptoms. However, some symptoms of panic and anxiety attacks are similar. Some of these similar symptoms include shortness of breath, rapid pulses, and dizziness.

Panic attacks are characterized by a sudden surge of intense discomfort or fear that is usually accompanied by other mental and physical symptoms. On the other side, an anxiety attack is a common experience in humanity that is defined by emotional and protective responses.

Unlike a panic attack, an anxiety attack is embedded permanently into the human body. Anxiety and panic may not be a great deal until they become intense or become part of your life. Therefore, whenever the symptoms get severe, it is advisable to understand the type of attack and seek the necessary treatment.

Clinical differences between panic and anxiety

Mental health professionals, when treating anxiety and panic, base diagnosis on the 5th edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-5, definitions. Despite that anxiety attack and the panic attack may often feel the same, the DSM-5 handbook clearly outlines the differences that can be used to identify each.

This handbook relates a panic attack to the distinctive features associated with the panic disorder condition. However, there are other psychiatric disorders in which you may experience a panic attack. Additionally, it is possible to experience a panic attack without necessarily having disorder.

DSM-5 does no definition for anxiety attack; instead, they use the term to describe primary symptoms of different illnesses. Some of the disorders whose anxiety attack is the core feature include anxiety disorders, trauma and stressor-related disorders.2, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. These three broad disorders may consist of;

  • Agoraphobia without panic disorder history
  • Panic disorder
  • Specific phobia
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Separation anxiety disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

In-depth definitions in the DSM-5 are used by behavioral health professionals to diagnose and differentiate the conditions. However, the main difference between panic and anxiety is the intensity and duration of the symptoms.

Panic attack: Panic attack refers to an intense and abrupt feeling of fear, discomfort, or terror. Also, it is accompanied by some physical and mental symptoms.

A panic attack is experienced out of the blue without any immediate trigger, and the symptoms are too intense that they cause total disruption in your day. At times, panic may be expected, especially when it caused by a phobia or other known stressors.

Generally, panic climaxes within 10 minutes, and it starts to be less intensive. However, in some cases, it may be challenging to determine how long panic takes because some panic attacks last for longer or succeed each other.

Symptoms of a panic attack

  • Accelerated heartbeat
  • Sweating excessively and trembling
  • Difficulty in breathing or sensations of shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Choking feeling
  • Paresthesia
  • Fainting or dizziness
  • Chills or hot flashes
  • Unreality feeling
  • Depersonalization
  • Fear of losing control or being crazy
  • Fear of death

Anxiety attack: Unlike panic, anxiety attacks intensify with time. Mostly, anxiety is caused by worry about a danger that may happen. Anxiety attack is realized when the anticipation becomes overwhelming, thus causing some significant amount of stress. Anxiety symptoms are less intense compared to panic; the only distinguishing characteristic is that these similar symptoms are persistent and long-lasting in anxiety.

Symptoms of an anxiety attack

  • Tension of muscles and restlessness.
  • Fatigue
  • Disturbed sleep or dizziness
  • Accelerated heartbeat
  • Increased startle response
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Irritability

Treatment: There is an effective treatment for both panic and anxiety. Some treatment options include therapy, prescription medications, and self-help strategies, and they can either be combined or executed differently. Psychotherapy helps you identify symptoms, develop ways of managing them, and get a clear perspective that gives a hopeful outlook that determines your future path.

On the other hand, medication helps you curb the symptoms. Medications may only be needed for short periods as you employ the other treatment methods. Some of the beneficial self-help strategies that will help you manage attacks include breathing exercises and gradual relaxation.

Anxiety and panic attacks can be very disturbing when carrying out daily tasks. Upon experiencing panic or anxiety, don’t hesitate to share the symptoms with your doctor and seek help.


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