Panic Attack Vs Anxiety Attack

Panic attack vs anxiety attack, know the difference.

Although panic attack vs anxiety attack are often assumed to be the same thing, they are actually quite different.

The clinical differences between a panic attack and an anxiety attack

The professional diagnoses of panic and anxiety attacks are based on definitions from the medical handbook, ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition' or DSM-5 for short. DSM-5 uses the colloquialism, ‘panic attack' to describe the condition known as ‘panic disorder', although panic attacks can occur as part of other psychiatric disorders.

Anxiety attacks are not defined in DSM-5. Instead, ‘anxiety' is the term used to describe a central feature of a number of different conditions grouped under a number of different headings.

Anxiety as a symptom of conditions such as:

The main differences ascribed to panic and anxiety attacks are described in DSM-5 in terms of the intensity of their symptoms and the duration of the main symptom. The definitions contained in the DSM-5 will be used by health professionals in order to classify the presenting condition and to make a definitive diagnosis.

Here is an overview of panic attack vs anxiety attack as prescribed by the DSM-5.

Panic attack

When someone suffers a panic attack, their symptoms appear abruptly, ‘out of the blue' and are very intense. Symptoms tend to peak within about 10 minutes and then subside quickly. However, sometimes panic attacks can last longer or may happen multiple times in quick succession, creating difficulties in working out where one panic attack starts and the next one ends.

After a panic attack, patients often feel stressed and worried, and these feelings usually linger for the rest of the day and even overnight.

A panic attack is characterized by four or more of the following factors:

  • Increased or pounding heart rate
  • Sweating profusely
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Feelings of shortness of breath, breathing difficulties or of being smothered
  • Sensation of choking
  • Chest pain
  • Feeling sick and having an ‘upset stomach'
  • Dizziness, fainting, feeling lightheaded or unsteady
  • An irrational fear of dying
  • Tingling or numbness in the extremities
  • Experiencing hot flashes or chills

Patients may also feel that they are losing their grip on reality, are losing control of their situation or are actually going insane.

Anxiety attack

When compared with panic attacks, it can be noted that anxiety attacks intensify gradually over a length of time and are usually correlated to worrying about a specific potential event or danger. Symptoms of anxiety are actually very similar to those presented by a panic attack and can include many symptoms.

Symptoms of an anxiety attack

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Problems concentrating
  • Tension in the muscles
  • Feelings of extreme fatigue
  • Irritability and an increased startle response
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath

Despite their similarity to those experienced during a panic attack, symptoms that occur due to anxiety are generally less intense. Another clear distinction is that anxiety symptoms tend to be persistent and much longer in duration than those experience during a panic attack.

Treatment of panic attack vs anxiety attack

Both panic attacks and anxiety can both be treated effectively. Common treatment options for both conditions include therapy, self-help strategies, counseling, and prescribed medication. Sometimes, a combination of all these treatments is the most effective strategy, although the efficacy varies from individual to individual.

Therapy can be very effective in helping sufferers to work out ways of managing their symptoms. Working through past events that have caused psychological damage, looking at a path for the future, and gaining a clearer perspective on life will all help to cultivate a more positive current outlook.

Medication can be useful in helping to reduce very severe symptoms and self-help techniques can help sufferers to work through symptom management at their own pace.


Although panic attacks and anxiety may appear similar to the lay person and both can seriously disrupt a sufferer's daily life, they are actually quite different conditions.

If you experience any of the symptoms of either panic attack or anxiety, you should always seek professional medical advice.

Last Reviewed:
August 30, 2017
Last Updated:
October 06, 2017
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