Panic attack and anxiety attack are medical terms that are commonly used interchangeably, even though they don’t mean the same thing. While they may share some common symptoms, several key markers differentiate one condition from the other.
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Generally, panic attacks and anxiety attacks differ in intensity and duration. Unlike anxiety attacks, panic attacks are more intense and appear suddenly. Whereas, anxiety attacks have triggering factors.
What Is the Difference Between Anxiety and Panic Attacks?
Since the symptoms of these two conditions are quite similar, telling the difference between them might be difficult.
However, below are general differentiating characteristics of these conditions:
- Panic attacks occur without a cause or trigger, while anxiety occurs in response to a threat or stressor.
- Panic attacks have intense and disruptive symptoms that include a sense of detachment and unreality, while the intensity of anxiety attacks varies from mild to severe.
- Since they don’t have a trigger, panic attacks occur suddenly while the symptoms of anxiety attacks intensify with every minute, hour, and day.
- Symptoms of panic attacks subside after some minutes, while those of anxiety attacks last longer.
Signs and Symptoms of Panic and Anxiety Attacks
Signs and symptoms come in handy in differentiating between a panic attack and an anxiety attack.
Panic Attack Symptoms
The symptoms of a panic attack include;
- Racing or pounding heartbeat
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Sudden chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Chills or hot flashes
- Tingling or numbness of extremities
- Choking feeling
Those experiencing panic attacks also feel the following things:
- Losing control
- Sudden fear of death
These signs peak after 10 minutes before subsiding gradually.
However, in some situations, panic attacks occur simultaneously, making the attack seem like it lasts longer.
The affected persons often feel the following thing after the attack:
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Anxiety Attack Symptoms
Symptoms of anxiety attack become pronounced after a few minutes but typically less intense compared to those of panic attacks.
- Chest pains
- Loss of concentration
- Muscle pain
- Dry mouth
- Rapid heart rate
- Distress and worry
- Shortness of breath
- Sleep disturbance
Anxiety attack symptoms last longer and may persist for several days, weeks, and months.
Causes of Panic and Anxiety Attacks
As mentioned, panic attacks have no triggers and can occur expectedly or unexpectedly. On the other hand, there are several anxiety attack causes.
That said, below are the expected panic and anxiety attack causes:
- Social stressors
- Work-related stress
- Chronic pain or other chronic conditions
- Some medications or medical supplements
- Alcohol or drug withdrawal
- Past traumatic experiences
- Phobias, such as claustrophobia, agoraphobia, and acrophobia
- Thyroid complications
Risk Factors of Panic and Anxiety Attacks
While they may manifest differently, panic and anxiety attack risk factors are the same.
- Stressful life experiences, such as divorce or the death of a close person
- Living with a chronic or life-threatening condition, such as heart disease, diabetes, or thyroid disorder
- Ongoing stress such as family conflict, work responsibilities, and financial problems
- General anxious personality
- A traumatic event as a child or grown adult
- Associated mental health condition, especially depression
- Drug and alcohol addiction
Panic Attack and Anxiety Attack Diagnosis
Mental health professionals can diagnose panic attacks and anxiety symptoms using the DSM 5 classification.
However, anxiety attacks cannot be diagnosed since the condition is not clinically defined under the DSM-5. To get started, the physician discusses the symptoms and previous life events of the affected person.
They may also conduct a thorough psychological evaluation to identify the category that the symptoms can be classified into.
Important tests for a conclusive diagnosis include;
Treatment of Anxiety and Panic Attacks
Before highlighting the treatment options for panic and anxiety attacks, it is worth mentioning what you should do if you feel oncoming anxiety or panic attack.
Try the following management measures;
- Take Slow and Deep Breaths
If you start feeling rapid breaths, focus on your inhalation and exhalation. Take deep breaths to fill your stomach with air, count to four, then exhale. Repeat this until your breathing rate slows.
- Practice Mindfulness
Mindful interventions are effective in remedying ongoing panic and anxiety attacks. This technique involves grounding your present thoughts.
- Use Relaxation Techniques
The relaxation techniques given below help in relieving the panic and anxiety attacks:
- Guided imagery
- Muscle relaxation
Relaxation techniques could be as simple as:
- Closing your eyes
- Taking a bath
- Using lavender
- Accept Your Condition
A big part of healing from panic and anxiety attacks is recognizing and accepting that you have these conditions. If you’ve had panic or anxiety attacks before, the experience is certainly frightening. However, reassure yourself that the symptoms will pass.
Both panic and anxiety attacks can be treated. However, there are slight differences in panic and anxiety attack treatment depending on the symptoms.
Some treatment options include;
Extensive psychotherapy helps affected patients understand their symptoms and contribute to management. It helps work through previous pain and events and chant a future path.
Drugs, such as antianxiety, antidepressants, and benzodiazepine, can help alleviate the symptoms. They might be used for a short period to control the symptoms while patients work on other treatment strategies.
- Self-Help Therapies
Personal therapies, such as progressive relaxation and breathing exercises, are beneficial in enabling one to work through the symptoms.
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Evidently, panic and anxiety attacks have some differences. Even though the terms are used interchangeably, anxiety attacks are not recognized in the DSM-5 classification.
Both conditions can disrupt your everyday life and require immediate intervention.