Panic Attack vs. Anxiety: Understanding the Difference

“Panic attack” and “anxiety attack” are often used interchangeably to mean the same thing. While they share many similarities, the two are very different. Understanding the difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack, as well as a panic disorder and an anxiety disorder, is important to finding the correct form of help.

There are distinct clinical differences between a panic attack and an anxiety attack. Individual who have multiple panic attacks typically suffer from a panic disorder, which is a form of anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders as a term refers to broad category of mental health disorders, that include obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and many other conditions. Even if you don’t have a panic or anxiety disorder, it is still possible to suffer from an attack of panic or acute anxiety. Here’s how to tell the difference.

Anxiety Attacks

An anxiety attack often occurs because of a stressor. This stressor, or trigger, can be a situation or event. Anxiety generally intensifies over a length of time. People experience excessive worrying about potential dangers or threats. An anxiety attack is less intense than a panic attack but the symptoms often persist longer.

Common symptoms of anxiety attacks include:
  • Feeling out of control
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Numbness

Panic Attacks

A panic attack can feel a lot like an anxiety attack. In fact, they share a lot of symptoms. Unlike an anxiety attack, a panic attack appears suddenly and out of the blue. They also are much more intense than an anxiety attack. They peak within 10 minutes before subsiding.

A panic attack is characterized when four or more of the following symptoms occur:
  • Heart palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
  • Excessive sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Feeling of choking
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling of unreality
  • Loss of control
  • Numbness or tingling

Treatment

It’s important to know that whether you’re dealing with anxiety or panic attacks, or a related disorder, there is treatment available. These attacks can make you feel as if there is no hope, but there is. Therapy, medication, and self-help strategies have been proven to be extremely effective at reducing the frequency and intensity of attacks. Therapy is used to help manage symptoms, discover the cause of the issue, and learn coping techniques. Medication can reduce severe symptoms so that the attacks are less likely to occur in the first place. Contact us to discuss treatment options for your anxiety or panic attacks.

Dr. Raul J. Rodriguez

Dr. Raul Rodriguez

DABPN, DABAM, MRO