What is the difference between panic attacks and anxiety attacks, and does treatment for both conditions differ?
Mild anxiety symptoms are very common and almost everyone would experience them in their lifetime. For instance, the night before a major exam, many of us would feel a bit anxious and may have a bit of tension in our body.
These symptoms may be considered normal experiences if they do not cause distress or affect our functioning. Panic attacks are more severe anxiety attacks. They may occur spontaneously, out of the blue and are more intense.
The individual may have:
- fast heart beat
- awareness of the heart beat (palpitations)
- chest pain
- choking sensation
- giddiness and
- tummy discomfort
Very often, there is intense fear, and the person may fear dying from a heart disease, or have fears of losing control, having a stroke, going crazy or collapse.
The typical panic attack may last for 2 to 30 minutes. After the attack, the individual may then go on to develop anticipatory anxiety as they fear having another attack. Panic attacks are usually multiple and recurrent.
Anxiety symptoms may be due to many conditions like medical problems (thyroid disease for instance), generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, etc. Panic attacks can be due to an underlying panic disorder.
The treatments for the various conditions may differ. In terms of GAD, when it comes to psychological therapy, one may focus on how to decrease worrying.
Whereas for panic disorder, one may focus on identifying the triggers for the panic attacks, and learn to modify the thoughts that follow the bodily sensations, using cognitive behavioural therapy. The duration of medication treatment for the various conditions may also differ.
Dr Ng Beng Yeong
MBBS, MMed (Psychiatry), FAMS
MOUNT ELIZABETH MEDICAL CENTRE
#15 - 05 Singapore 228510
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