It can be terrifying when you’re stressed out and start feeling tightness in your chest and trouble breathing. Many people might think this is a heart attack if they haven’t experienced it before. But depending on the person, it might be something different: a panic attack or an anxiety attack. Fortunately, regardless of what you’re experiencing, help is available. But telling the difference between panic and anxiety might depend on the person. Let’s get into the similarities, differences, and treatment of both.
Panic attacks and anxiety attacks share many similarities in symptoms. They both can include mental signs of fear, though panic attacks often include excessive fear. And physical symptoms of both can include shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pain, tight throat, sweating, faintness, dizziness, dry mouth, shaking, and others. In fact, at the moment, you might not know whether you’re having a panic attack or an anxiety attack. Here are a few of the differences.
The term panic attack has a clinical definition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). It is described as “A discrete period of intense fear or discomfort, in which four or more…symptoms developed abruptly and reached a peak within 10 minutes.” Some of those unique symptoms include fear of losing control, fear of “going crazy,” fear of dying, derealization (feelings of unreality), or depersonalization (being detached from oneself).
Diagnosing a panic attack or panic disorder requires a meeting with your primary care provider. They might suggest a physical exam, a psychological evaluation, a blood test, or an ECG or EKG test on your heart.
“Anxiety attack” is not an official term like a panic attack. But it’s a term that people with anxiety and anxiety disorders use to describe drawn-out or intense periods of anxiety.
And though anxiety attack isn’t an official term, anxiety disorders can be diagnosed by a medical professional. Panic disorders fall under the umbrella of anxiety disorders. Some other anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorders, social anxiety disorders, and specific phobias.
For both panic attacks and anxiety attacks, help and treatment are available. One key for both is prevention. Staying healthy physically can help your mental health, especially since health problems can cause certain anxiety disorders. Keep moving, incorporating exercise into your routine. And take the appropriate preventative care steps for your age group, staying on top of screenings and appointments with your primary care provider. Speaking with your provider early if you feel like you might be dealing with an anxiety or panic disorder is essential too. It’s also a good idea to stay away from drugs and alcohol.
Treatment for anxiety disorders might include therapy or medication. The same can help with panic attacks. For panic attacks, medications can consist of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), both types of antidepressants, or Benzodiazepines, which are sedatives that depress the central nervous system. For anxiety disorders, some antidepressants, buspirone, or Benzodiazepines might help.
Speaking with your provider can help set you on the right path for diagnosis and treatment. If you’re concerned about the impact of panic or anxiety attacks on your life, make an appointmentwith a CHP clinic in Bozeman, Belgrade, or Livingston to discuss your unique situation.