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Often the terms panic attack and anxiety attack are erroneously used interchangeably. While they have many similarities, they are two distinct conditions. Anxiety can be a symptom of panic, but experiencing anxiety is different from a panic attack. Unlike panic attacks, anxiety attacks are not recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Medical News Today identifies specific features of anxiety attacks that distinguish them from panic attacks, including: 

  • Anxiety attacks are not a diagnosable condition
  • Anxiety attacks can have a specific trigger 
  • Anxiety attacks are less severe than panic attacks
  • Anxiety attacks can develop gradually when a person feels anxious 
  • Anxiety attacks typically involve physical symptoms

Anxiety is a normal reaction to stressful situations, and anxiety attacks are generally precipitated by the anticipation of a stressful experience, situation or event. Experiencing bouts of anxiety is to be expected. However, experiencing random and/ or frequent anxiety attacks may suggest the presence of diagnosable mental health condition. Anxiety disorders, for example, involve excessive feelings of nervousness, anxiousness, fear and anxiety. According to the American Psychiatric Association there are several different types of anxiety disorders, some of which include: generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), separation anxiety disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, and social anxiety disorder (also known as social phobia). While each type of anxiety disorder comes with its own distinct characteristics, they all share the common symptom of anxiety attacks. The exact cause for developing an anxiety disorder remains unknown. Research suggests that it is likely due to a combination of contributing factors such as psychological, environmental, genetic, and developmental factors.

Signs and Symptoms

The lack of diagnostic recognition of anxiety attacks contributes to the vague and wide-ranging signs and symptoms that are often associated with anxiety attacks. Every individual is different and could exhibit a unique combination of symptoms when it comes to anxiety attacks. Medical News Today provides examples of common signs and symptoms that could present with an anxiety attack, some of which include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Dizziness, lightheaded, unsteady, faint
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry mouth
  • Chest pain
  • Being easily startled
  • Hot flashes
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Irritability
  • Numbness and/ or tingling sensations
  • Loss of concentration
  • Sleep disturbances
  • A rapid heart rate
  • Restlessness 
  • Chills 
  • Feeling of choking
  • Worry and/ or distress 
  • Trembling
  • Abdominal pain
  • Excessive sweating

The symptoms of an anxiety attack can range in severity and duration. Usually, acute anxiety attacks are short-lived, but for some, the intense symptoms can leave an individual experiencing residual effects of anxiety long (e.g. days, weeks, or even months) after an anxiety attack has ended. It is important to note that not all individuals that experience anxiety attacks unequivocally go on to develop an anxiety disorder. Due to the fact that anxiety disorders are highly common, it may be advantageous for an individual that experiences frequent and/ or severe anxiety attacks to consult a mental health professional. 

Disclaimer: 

The information above is provided for the use of informational purposes only. The above content is not to be substituted for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment, as in no way is it intended as an attempt to practice medicine, give specific medical advice, including, without limitation, advice concerning the topic of mental health.  As such, please do not use any material provided above as a means to disregard professional advice or delay seeking treatment.