Panic attack vs. anxiety attack: What is the difference?

The terms panic attack and anxiety attack are used interchangeably, but they are not the same. Key characteristics distinguish one from the other, though they have several symptoms in common.

These types of attack have different intensities and durations.

Panic attacks are generally more intense than anxiety attacks.
They also come on out of the blue, while anxiety attacks are often associated with a trigger.

Symptoms of anxiety are linked to numerous mental health conditions, including obsessive-compulsive disorder and trauma, while panic attacks mainly affect those with panic disorder.

What are the signs and symptoms?

The differences between anxiety and panic attacks are best highlighted by comparing the symptoms of each condition:

Panic attack symptoms

Panic attack vs anxiety attack

Chest pain is a symptom of panic and anxiety attacks.

Panic attacks come on suddenly, without an obvious trigger.

Symptoms include:

  • a racing or pounding heartbeat
  • chest pain
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • hot flashes or chills
  • nausea
  • numbness or tingling in the extremities
  • shaking
  • shortness of breath
  • stomach pain
  • sweating
  • the feeling of being choked or smothered

People experiencing a panic attack may also:

  • feel a loss of control
  • feel like they are going crazy
  • have a sudden fear that they will die
  • feel detached from themselves, which is called depersonalization, and feel detached from their surroundings

Symptoms of panic tend to peak after 10 minutes, then gradually subside.

However, several panic attacks can occur in a row, making it seem like an attack is lasting for much longer.

After an attack, many people feel stressed, worried, or otherwise unusual for the rest of the day.

Anxiety attack symptoms

While panic attacks come on suddenly, symptoms of anxiety follow a period of excessive worry.

Symptoms may become more pronounced over a few minutes or hours. They are typically less intense than those of panic attacks.

Anxiety attack symptoms include:

  • being easily startled
  • chest pain
  • dizziness
  • dry mouth
  • fatigue
  • fear
  • irritability
  • loss of concentration
  • muscle pain
  • numbness or tingling in the extremities
  • a rapid heart rate
  • restlessness
  • shortness of breath
  • sleep disturbances
  • the feeling of being choked or smothered
  • worry and distress

Anxiety symptoms often last longer than the symptoms of a panic attack. They may persist for days, weeks, or months.

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