Panic Attack: Types, Differences, Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

Feeling anxious is common and can affect anyone, at any age.

Anxiety is defined as excessive and persistent worry about an impending event, such as death or illness, or even minor events, such as being late for an appointment or other uncertain outcomes.

Episodes can vary in severity and frequency. But constant worry and fear can be problematic for healthy function.

That is why knowing the type of anxiety you have can be helpful in finding a solution.

Types and causes of anxiety disorders

Anxiety disorders are divided into five main types:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder: is chronic anxiety characterized by exaggerated worry and tension, which is usually focused on future events and outcomes.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder : these are unwanted recurring thoughts (obsessions) or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). The behaviors are often performed in hopes of avoiding or eliminating the obsessive thoughts. But that only provides temporary relief; Failure to perform the actions markedly increases anxiety symptoms.
  • Panic disorder: these are unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder: develops after exposure to a frightening event, in which serious physical harm occurred or was threatened with its occurrence.
  • Social anxiety disorder: it is an overwhelming and excessive anxiety, to be in everyday social situations.

Anxiety and panic attacks

Although anxiety can fuel a panic attack, it is a separate condition that can be gradual and chronic.

That is why there is no such thing as an “anxiety attack.”

Panic attacks, by contrast, are marked by an intense and overwhelming sense of fear in response to an imminent threat.

Panic attacks, often brief, are triggered by a fight or flight, as the body’s response to a feared event.

It is a natural and adaptive process that helps you fight or flee from danger.

This process can be activated any time we perceive that we are in danger and it can happen in the context of any anxiety or stress disorder.

If someone is afraid of dogs, meeting an unfamiliar dog could trigger a panic attack, someone who has social anxiety or concerns about being negatively judged by others could have a panic attack while giving a speech or introducing themselves to new people.

Anxiety can be a symptom of panic, but it is different from a panic attack.

Differences between anxiety and panic attack

Tests and stress in the workplace can cause anxiety.

These are some of the characteristics that distinguish them.

An anxiety attack:

  • You may have a specific trigger, such as an exam, workplace problems, a health problem, or a relationship problem.
  • It is not a diagnosable condition.
  • It is less severe than a panic attack.
  • It generally develops gradually when a person feels anxious.
  • It involves physical symptoms, such as a racing heart or a knot in the stomach.

A panic attack:

  • It does not have a specific trigger.
  • May be a symptom of panic disorder, a diagnosable condition
  • You have severe symptoms.
  • It can happen if a person feels calm or anxious.
  • It involves physical symptoms and feelings of terror so intense that the person fears a total loss of control or imminent death.
  • It often occurs suddenly and unexpectedly and lasts from a few minutes to an hour, although the negative impact may continue

Difference in symptoms

Both panic and anxiety can involve fear, a racing heartbeat, lightheadedness, chest pain, shortness of breath, and irrational thoughts.

However, in a panic attack, these are much more severe. The person may genuinely believe that they are going to die.

Anxiety can be a response to a specific worry or fear.

It tends to develop gradually, and a person is usually worried from the beginning.

It can be mild, moderate, or severe. There may be a feeling that if only this problem can be solved, everything will be fine.

A panic attack can happen without warning, and there is no way to prevent it.

It can happen if a person feels calm or anxious, and even during sleep.

Often there is no obvious cause, and the level of fear is disproportionate to the trigger.

In fact, the reaction is not related to the situation.

Anxiety is often related to a specific situation.

It tends to build up and continue for some time.

A panic attack starts suddenly, symptoms peak after 10 minutes and generally subside after 30 minutes or so, although the effects can last longer.

Anxiety does not usually peak this way, but some people with anxiety can progress to panic attacks.

Symptoms of a panic attack

Panic attacks and panic disorder tend to reflect the body’s natural fight or flight response.

Because of this, a person with this type of disorder may experience various symptoms, including:

Behavioral symptoms

  • Avoid people, places, or situations related to panic attacks.
  • Placing restrictions or reorganizing the activity or life of the patient to ensure that help is always available in the event of a panic attack.

Physical symptoms

  • Shaking or chills
  • Tremors
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Nausea or an upset stomach.
  • Feeling of suffocation
  • Fast heart rate or pounding heart.
  • Chest pain.
  • Abdominal distress
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Feeling faint
  • Short of breath.
  • Chills or hot sensations.
  • Numbness or tingling especially in the extremities.

A panic attack would include at least four of these symptoms.

Cognitive symptoms

  • The feeling that the outside world is not real.
  • Depersonalization, in which there is a sense of detachment from yourself or your own body.
  • Changes in sensory experiences (for example, tunnel vision).

Psychosocial symptoms

  • Affraid to die.
  • Fear of losing control or “going crazy.”
  • Persistent worry about the present and future consequences of panic attacks.

For some people, panic attacks seem to come out of nowhere or are triggered by uncomfortable sensations in the body.

Panic attacks can come on quickly and peak, or be at their worst, within 10 minutes.

Most attacks resolve relatively quickly, within 30 minutes for most people.

They are also not dangerous, panic attacks do not last forever, the panic will subside on its own, even if the patient does nothing.

How to stop a panic attack

Try to become aware of your surroundings and sensory experiences.

This can be accomplished by deep breathing, for example.

A big part of stopping a panic attack is getting past the initial intensity and letting it go down, sometimes orienting yourself in the environment of the moment can be helpful.

While panic attacks are not uncommon, you shouldn’t have to live in fear.

Frequent attacks become a problem when they cause distress and force you to withdraw from activities or responsibilities.

Sometimes people fear that they may have another panic attack and will begin to avoid activities that could trigger it and this can cause significant deterioration.

If panic attacks or anxiety are making life difficult the way you want it to, or are causing distress, it might be time to seek professional help.

Treatment and prevention of panic attack

Cognitive behavioral therapy and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are the first-line evidence-based treatments for anxiety.

These treatments can be used separately or in combination.

Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on identifying and addressing anxiety-related thoughts and behaviors.

It often involves meeting with a therapist on a weekly basis and practicing practical strategies every day to control anxious thoughts and behaviors.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are taken daily and can help adjust levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, which can affect mood and anxiety.

There are many types of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

A doctor will determine which is the best and can monitor the benefits and side effects.