Anxiety disorders are among the most common types of mental health issues in the United States, along with depression. Each year, anxiety disorders affect about 40 million adults, accounting for more than 18 percent of the population. Most anxiety disorders are treatable, but less than 37 percent of the people who need treatment receive it. In some cases, anxiety disorders can cause panic attacks that can manifest in psychological and physical symptoms.

What Is Anxiety?

Many people experience anxiety at least once in their lives. Most everyday anxiety comes with periods of high stress because of problems and challenges you experience in everyday life. But anxiety disorders involve persistent worries or fears that can get in the way of your relationships, career, and other aspects of your life. Anxiety disorders are more persistent than temporary worry.

They may be caused by real stress that you may have trouble getting past. But anxiety disorders may also come out of nowhere with no apparent cause or trigger. Generally, stress may become an anxiety disorder when it disrupts your life for long periods.

Several types of anxiety disorders can manifest with different symptoms. In some cases, these specific disorders are difficult to diagnose and require professional treatment. Examples of anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Social anxiety disorder

These disorders may share some symptoms, but each requires a different treatment approach.

What Are Panic Disorders?

A panic disorder isn’t separate from anxiety. It’s a form of anxiety disorder that’s characterized by panic attacks. A panic attack is a sudden onset of at least four of a dozen or so possible symptoms, which include:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Chest pains
  • Trembling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Chills
  • Numbness
  • Dizziness
  • Fear of losing control
  • Fear of detachment
  • Fear of impending death

Panic disorders often involve a panic attack and subsequent anxieties that a panic attack might happen again. In some cases, the physical symptoms of panic might cause you to experience anxiety that you have something physically wrong with you.

Generalized anxiety disorder can also cause panic attacks. However, panic disorders cause recurring panic attacks that are followed by anxiety about the possibility of your next panic attack. Unlike general anxiety, panic disorders are centered on panic attacks that can have no apparent trigger.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), there are two other criteria for panic symptoms to qualify as a panic disorder. Substance use or abuse can’t cause panic attacks, and they also can’t be better explained by another mental health condition, such as post-traumatic stress.

Anxiety vs. Panic Attack

You might have heard people talking about anxiety attacks and panic attacks, but what’s the difference? Anxiety vs. panic attack – are they the same? In short, no, they’re different conditions. Below, we’ll discuss the difference between anxiety and panic attacks.

Anxiety Attacks

It’s common to think anxiety and panic are the same, but what is the difference between anxiety and panic attacks? Well, anxiety occurs when someone fears something bad might happen. It’s a non-medical term used to describe feelings of worry or fear that relate to a particular issue. Anxiety is linked to stress, and so are the feelings of worry and fear. It typically involves physical symptoms like muscle tension. It’s different from panic attacks as they are symptoms of panic disorder. Anxiety relates to a specific situation. However, that’s not always the case. 

Anxiety attacks consist of the following:

  • Anxiety attacks have a specific trigger. These might include worrying about an upcoming exam, problems at work, issues with your health, or a troubled relationship.
  • Anxiety attacks are not considered a diagnosable condition.
  • Anxiety attacks are less severe than panic attacks.
  • These attacks only occur when someone is feeling anxious.
  • It involves physical symptoms, including “knots in the stomach” or a racing heart.

Panic Attacks

These come on suddenly and involve intense and sometimes overwhelming fear. One primary difference between the two is there are various types of panic attacks. Panic attacks are accompanied by difficult physical symptoms, including shortness of breath, racing heartbeat, nausea, and vomiting.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) explains that panic attacks are expected and unexpected. Unexpected panic attacks are caused by external stress like phobias. These can occur to anyone, but having more than one is a clear indicator you have a panic disorder.

Panic attacks consist of the following:

  • Panic attacks do not have a specific trigger.
  • Panic attacks often have severe symptoms.
  • They can be a symptom of panic disorder, which is a diagnosable and treatable condition.
  • They can occur when someone is feeling calm or anxious.
  • Panic attacks can lead to physical symptoms and feelings of terror that are so intense that the individual loses total control and thinks they’re going to die.
  • They can occur suddenly and unexpectedly, lasting anywhere from minutes to hours, although the adverse impact can persist.

Differences in Symptoms, How They Start, and Duration

While panic attacks and anxiety involve similar fear, pounding or racing heart, chest pain, lightheadedness, difficulty breathing, and irrational thoughts, they’re not the same. In panic attacks, these symptoms are much more severe, and the individual has a genuine feeling they’re going to die. Panic attacks are more likely to result in a person requiring medical attention as well, whereas an anxiety attack will rectify itself on its own. 

There is also a difference in how panic and anxiety attacks initiate. Anxiety is the response to a specific fear or worry and develops gradually. The individual is typically concerned at the outset. The symptoms can range from mild to severe, and there is a sense that if the problem is solved, there won’t be any further issues.

On the other hand, panic attacks tend to occur without warning. Also, there’s nothing you can do to prevent them. These can occur when someone is feeling calm or when they’re asleep. There is no obvious cause, and the level of fear far surpasses what’s necessary for that moment. The reaction is often unrelated to the situation. 

While anxiety is tied to a specific situation, it builds up over time and persists for some time. Panic attacks show up suddenly, with symptoms peaking after 10 minutes and dissipating around 30 minutes after they show up. However, some effects can last longer. Anxiety does not typically peak in this fashion, but some people with anxiety can eventually develop panic attacks. 

Unfortunately, some people will need treatment for anxiety and panic attacks. Below, we’ll discuss what you can do.

Treating Anxiety And Panic Attacks

Anxiety and panic disorders can be complex, but they are treatable with professional care. Treatment for anxiety disorders can involve medication, psychotherapies, or a combination of both. In many cases, panic disorders can be chronic and may worsen if left untreated. Because panic attacks can cause some physical symptoms, it’s important to speak with your doctor to rule out serious medical issues, such as heart disease.

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