Panic attacks and anxiety attacks are often used interchangeably, but they have distinct differences in causes, duration, and intensity. Anxiety attacks are typically triggered by specific stressors and develop gradually over time. On the other hand, panic attacks occur suddenly and unexpectedly.
A panic attack is a classified medical condition characterized by the DSM-V system, which describes mental health conditions. It is defined as an abrupt episode of intense fear that leads to severe physical reactions without any apparent cause or real danger. Symptoms of a panic attack include chest pain, abdominal cramping, dizziness, faintness or lightheadedness, fear of death or loss of control, feeling of detachment, rapid or racing heart rate, headache, nausea, shaking or trembling.
Panic attack symptoms typically last for a short period of time, around 10-12 minutes. Some individuals may mistake their symptoms for a heart attack and call for medical assistance. However, the primary symptom of a panic attack is the feeling of impending doom or immediate threat, which can prompt a person to seek help or try to escape.
An anxiety attack is not an officially recognized medical condition according to the DSM-V. However, this does not mean it is not a real experience. It is a term used by individuals with anxiety disorders to describe extended or intense periods of anxiety. Symptoms of anxiety attacks are more severe than general feelings of anxiety but less intense than panic attacks. These symptoms may persist for weeks and include irritability, muscle tension, feeling on edge, difficulty controlling worries, fatigue, and sleep disorders.
Differences Between Panic and Anxiety Attacks
The most significant difference between panic attacks and anxiety attacks is that panic attacks are a classified medical condition, while anxiety attacks are a non-literary term used by individuals with anxiety disorders. Other differences include:
- Panic attacks are disruptive and intense, often accompanied by severe physical symptoms that may be worse than the anxiety itself.
- Panic attacks can occur without a specific trigger, while anxiety attacks typically arise in response to a perceived threat or stressor.
- Anxiety attacks can range from mild to severe, while panic attacks often involve a sense of detachment and unreality.
- Panic attacks usually subside within a short period of time, whereas anxiety symptoms can persist for longer durations.
- Anxiety attacks gradually intensify over hours, days, or weeks, while panic attacks often occur suddenly and unexpectedly.