Panic Attack or an Anxiety Attack?

woman holding her head

The words “Panic Attack” and “Anxiety Attack” are often used interchangeably. The main difference is that experiencing panic attacks is considered a disorder by the DSM-5. The DSM-5 is the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It classifies the experiencing of recurrent unexpected panic attacks as a “Panic Disorder.”

Panic Disorder

Panic Disorder is defined by the DSM-5 as “an abrupt surge of intense fear or intense discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes, and during which time four (or more) of the following symptoms occur:

  • Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate.
  • Sweating.
  • Trembling or shaking,
  • Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering.
  • Feelings of choking.
  • Chest pain or discomfort.
  • Nausea or abdominal distress.
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint.
  • Chills or heat sensations.
  • Paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations).
  • Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself).
  • Fear of losing control or “going crazy.”
  • Fear of dying.”

Anxiety Attack

Anxiety Attacks, on the other hand, have triggers. Common triggers are stress, trauma, and excessive worry or fear about a certain situation. Anxiety attacks do have symptoms that overlap with panic attacks. These symptoms include an elevated heart rate, shakiness, nausea, and lightheadedness. Although physical symptoms are common during an anxiety attack, the more common ones include elevated heart rate, sweaty palms, and pain in stomach. Whereas, in a panic attack, many people compare the experience to one of having a heart attack.

Regardless of the type of attack you are experiencing, you deserve support. There are many methods of support available. Some may be as simple as learning to avoid triggers. Others may include learning new coping mechanisms, exploring and processing trauma, and/or medication. One treatment option is not better than the other, the best treatment depends on the person and their specific needs. Mental health professionals can help you assess and form a treatment plan that is right for you.

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