Anxiety and panic attack are part of normal human emotion and is experienced by almost everyone at some time or the other. It is a normal phenomenon to cope up with the emotional crisis. However, if they occur frequently and out of proportion, it can be a matter of concern and may require professional help. It is necessary to understand if an anxiety attack is the same as a panic attack.
Is Anxiety Attack the Same as Panic Attack?
It is very common to use the terms anxiety and panic attack interchangeably. However, it is important to note that anxiety and panic attack does not imply the same issue and they are two different conditions. Anxiety and panic attacks are known to have different features and they are used by behavior health specialists, psychologists and psychiatrists to denote symptoms of different conditions.
Anxiety is often associated with excessive worrying or excessive stress. A panic attack is linked with a sudden burst of fear. This is the main difference to note when considering if an anxiety attack is the same as a panic attack. While some of the symptoms seen with both these conditions are similar, there are few unique symptoms that distinguish them from each other. The core pathology or causes between these two are different. It is necessary to understand the causes to be able to appreciate that an anxiety attack is not the same as a panic attack.
Clinical Difference Between Anxiety Attack and Panic Attack
Professionals who deal with anxiety and panic attack use the DSM-5 method to differentiate between the two. The features between both are overlapping and the DSM-5 guidelines clearly differentiate them both. It is important to differentiate between anxieties from panic attacks as anxiety is associated with severe conditions such as stress-related disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, a trauma-related disorder, etc. These conditions do not show panic attacks. A panic attack is associated with other psychiatric disorders and sometimes panic attack appears by itself without any association with any other condition.
Anxiety and panic attack are also differentiated based on the intensity or duration of the symptoms elicited by them. The symptoms associated with both these conditions are discussed in brief below:
A panic attack is defined as a condition characterized by a sudden feeling of terror, fear, apprehension or nervousness. The symptoms associated with a panic attack are so intense that it can interfere with the functions of daily living. The panic attack generally occurs suddenly without any warning signs.1
However, in case of known triggers/stressors (such as a definite phobia), a panic attack can be anticipated upon exposure to the trigger. An episode of panic attack lasts for about 10 minutes and then dies down. In some cases, multiple episodes of panic attacks can occur. The affected person usually feel stressed out and worried for most of the day after the attack.
The most common symptoms associated with a panic attack are:
- Accelerated heartbeat, palpitation, heart pounding
- Profuse sweating
- Tremors or shaking
- Shortness by breath
- Difficulty breathing with feelings of being choked
- De-realization or feelings of unreality
- Depersonalization or feeling of being detached from oneself
- Going ‘crazy’ or fear of losing
- Fear of dying
- Hot flashes or tingling sensations
Anxiety develops over a period of time (not suddenly as compared to a panic attack). It develops due to excessive worrying (which may be real or perceived). Anxiety disorder is a constant feeling of worry, which is often persistent, excessive and unrealistic worry about everyday things.2 The worrying builds up to a level where it is overwhelming and feels like an attack. Generalized anxiety disorder is diagnosed when this feeling of excessive worry has lasted for at least six months.
The most common symptoms associated with anxiety attack are listed below:
- Sleep disturbances
- Muscle tension
- Tiredness or fatigue
- Difficulty to focus or concentrate
- Shortness of breath
- Increased heart rate
Some of the symptoms associated with anxiety attacks are quite similar to panic attacks; however, the intensity of the symptoms in anxiety is quite high as compared to the panic attack. An anxiety attack can linger on days, weeks and sometimes even months.
Management and Treatment of Anxiety Attack and Panic Attack
It is often necessary to differentiate between anxiety attacks and panic attacks in order to provide proper treatment. Knowing if an anxiety attack is the same as a panic attack helps to identify the condition and plan appropriate action. Proper evaluation and diagnosis also help identify other associated conditions or other underlying causes as well.
Based on the actual cause of the condition and presence of other conditions the treatment plan may include prescription medications, therapy, and self-help strategies.
These may be done alone or in combination.
Prescription Medications: Medications are prescribed by psychiatrists to control the condition. In some cases, these medications are prescribed only for a short period of time while in other cases medications may have to be taken for life long.
Therapy for Anxiety and Panic Attacks: Therapy provided by psychologists or behavioral therapists can help manage symptoms better and cope through stress and other triggers. They help the person obtain a positive outlook and a clearer perspective of the future.
Self-help Strategy: Simple stress management techniques such as breathing exercises, meditation, and desensitization can help in managing the symptoms better and obtain better clarity.
If you are wondering if an anxiety attack is the same as a panic attack or not, it is necessary to note that anxiety attacks and panic attack are two different problems. Although there are similar symptoms between the two, they are two different conditions. The symptoms seen in anxiety are often more intense and the condition intensifies over a period of time. A panic attack comes all of a sudden and dies down within 10 minutes. But both the conditions can indicate the presence of other serious conditions and thus it is very important to understand both more closely.