Difference Between Panic Attack and Panic Disorder

We all experience feelings of anxiety and panic at certain times in our lives, and while these feelings are a totally natural response to dangerous or stressful situations, they can nonetheless be debilitating and frightening, especially if they occur for no apparent reason.

What does a Panic Attack Feel Like

A panic attack involves a period of intense, overwhelming and irrational fear or distress that is often accompanied by other symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, and even severe chest pains. Sufferers may easily believe that they are experiencing a heart attack or some other, more serious medical problem, when what they are experiencing are the physical symptoms of a psychological condition.

These distressing physical and mental symptoms of a panic attack can include --

  • Heart Palpitations and Increased Heart Rate
  • Chest Pain and/or Discomfort in the Chest
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling Faint
  • Light Headiness
  • Shortness of Breath and/or Difficulty Breathing
  • Hyperventilation
  • Choking Feeling
  • Dry Mouth
  • Hot and/or Cold Flushes
  • Chills
  • Sweating Profusely
  • Trembling and Shakiness
  • Nausea and/or Upset Stomach
  • Numbness, Tingling and/or Pins & Needles
  • Ringing in the Ears
  • Feeling of Fear and Dread
  • Fear of Dying
  • Feeling of Detachment from the Body
  • Fear of Losing Control

Many people may only experience the symptoms of a panic attack a couple of times in their life, while others that regularly experience sudden feelings of anxiety and panic may be suffering from panic disorder.

Panic disorder | Mental health | NCLEX-RN | Khan Academy

What is Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is a chronic anxiety disorder characterized by sudden and reoccurring panic attacks. People with this disorder often live in fear of having a panic attack and will avoid particular activities and situations which they perceive might trigger a panic attack.

You might be diagnosed with panic disorder if you experience four or more of the above symptoms or experience recurrent and unexpected panic attacks followed by at least a month of continuous worry or concern about having further panic attacks.

As with most mental health conditions, the exact causes of panic disorder are not fully understood and there is no real cure. However, panic disorder is a treatable condition using either psychological therapies, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, (CBT) or medication or in some instances, both.

Panic Disorder Medication Treatment

Those who have been diagnosed with an actual panic disorder are usually prescribed medication to curb their attacks. With the variable symptoms of panic attacks and the variety of things out there that trigger them, it may take a few different dosage amounts or a couple different types of medication before you find the one that works the best for you.

It is easy to forget to take your medication, or decide that you are done with it and don’t want to take it any more for whatever reason, but your health professional knows what they are doing. If they prescribe you a medication for your panic attacks, it is important that you take it, to decrease the likelihood of you having another further  terrifying episodes in the future. While panic attacks can be extremely troublesome, you can keep the control of your life that having panic attacks can sometimes make it feel like you are losing.

Outside of medication, therapy is also another way of possibly curbing these episodes.

Panic Disorder Therapy

Panic attacks are often brought on by a certain trigger, or series of triggers. Triggers are things in your environment that cause your body to react. There are numerous triggers in your environment that can cause you to have a panic attack.

It can be very difficult to figure out on your own what your trigger is, and without knowing that, it can be hard to guarantee that the attacks will stop. Talking with a counsellor or a therapist can help you to understand what it is that causes your panic attacks, so you can take steps to prevent them from happening to you again.

If you drink alcohol or take drugs, these things can bring on panic episodes as well. Caffeine is also known to bring on panic attacks so if you partake in any of the aforementioned and you suffer from bouts of panic, consider quitting. This may help you reduce or even eliminate the panic attacks you are having.

Although panic attacks are terrifying, bear in mind that there are ways to get around them, and there are people that can help. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms, especially if you think the signs may be indicative of the symptoms of a panic attack.