Are You Having an Anxiety Attack or a Panic Attack?

woman having anxiety or panic attack

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  • Anxiety attacks are characterized by intense and overwhelming mental and physical symptoms
  • If there are recurrent and unexpected feelings of anxiety, and long periods spent fearing another attack, these are signs of panic disorder

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you may be prone to experiencing anxiety attacks. For many years, this term has been loosely associated with a “panic attack,” to the point that the two terms were even interchanged. However, while there are similarities between anxiety and panic attacks, they aren’t actually the same.

Anxiety Attacks Versus Panic Attacks

Speaking to ABC News, Dr. Cathy Frank of Henry Ford Health System notes that anxiety attacks occur when a person may be in close proximity to a particular stressor. It’s characterized by feelings of fearfulness and tension, and a person may find it hard to breathe, or notice their heartbeat is very fast.1

Anxiety attacks are characterized by intense and overwhelming mental and physical symptoms that have built up over time. In some cases, the physical indicators tend to be severe and may mimic serious health problems. While anxiety attacks last as long as 15 to 30 minutes, they are said to be less intense compared to panic attacks.2

However, take note that the phrase “anxiety attack” isn’t a formal clinical term. The “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition” or DSM-5 (often used to diagnose mental conditions) doesn’t have a definition for anxiety attacks, but instead refers to these attacks as a possible indicator of various types of anxiety disorders.3

On the other hand, if you or someone you know is suddenly overcome with intense fear, despite a lack of cause or danger, and exhibits drastic physical actions, then you may be having a panic attack. Considered more severe than anxiety attacks, people who experience panic attacks tend to feel physical or mentally ill.

The Mayo Clinic likens this experience to losing control of your body, experiencing a heart attack or feeling like you’re drying. Although panic attacks aren’t life-threatening, they can definitely be scary and may negatively impact your life.4 The symptoms of panic attacks are sudden, occur out-of-the-blue, and often peak for 10 minutes5 and then subside. However, some attacks may last longer or happen successively.6 Usually, a person experiences one or two panic attacks during his or her lifetime.

A consultation with a physician or mental health specialist may be required if these attacks continue and occur unexpectedly, or if the person constantly worries about another panic attack. These may be early indicators of panic disorder, a type of anxiety disorder that must be addressed as soon as possible.7

Indicators of Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Typical anxiety attack symptoms to watch out for include:8

Chest discomfort

Breathing difficulties

Rapid and pounding heart

Sweating

Shaking

Experiencing a choking sensation

Nausea

Lightheadedness or dizziness

Tingling or numbness

Chills or hot flashes

Noticing feelings of unreality

Fear of losing mind or dying

On the other hand, signs of panic attacks include:9

Feelings of impending doom or danger

Fear of loss of control or death

Rapid and pounding heartbeat

Sweating

Trembling or shaking

Shortness of breath or tightness in the throat

Chills or hot flashes

Nausea

Abdominal cramps

Dizziness, lightheadedness or faintness

Chest pain

Headaches

Numbness or tingling sensation

Feeling of unreality or detachment


Whether you have an anxiety or panic attack, it’s important that you consult a physician or mental health professional to help you get to the bottom of your anxiety disorder. This may also prevent the attacks from cascading into more devastating conditions.

MORE ABOUT ANXIETY

Anxiety: Introduction

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety Versus Panic Attacks

Anxiety in Children

Anxiety During Pregnancy

Panic Attacks and Anxiety

Anxiety Causes

Anxiety Types

Anxiety Symptoms

Anxiety Treatment

Anxiety Prevention

Anxiety Diet

Anxiety Support Groups

Anxiety FAQ


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