Skip to content

Anxiety & Panic Disorders Health Center

Font Size

Understanding Panic Attack -- Symptoms

What Are the Symptoms of a Panic Attack?

If you have the sudden onset of four or more of the following symptoms, you may be having a panic attack:

  • Sudden high anxiety with or without a cause
  • Heart palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • A "smothering" sensation or shortness of breath
  • A feeling of choking
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness or faintness
  • A sense of unreality
  • A fear of going crazy or losing control
  • A fear of dying
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Chills or hot flashes

An isolated panic attack, while extremely unpleasant, is not uncommon or life-threatening. Panic disorder and panic attacks are not the same thing; panic disorder refers to repeat panic attacks along with worry and concern about having repeat attacks. Panic attacks can be a symptom of other anxiety disorders as well.

Recommended Related to Anxiety Panic

Beyond 'White Coat Syndrome'

When Dorothea Lack was a little girl, she hid under a doctor's desk to avoid a vaccination. Undaunted, the doctor crawled under the desk and vaccinated her then and there. Lack said the incident provoked a fear of doctors that followed her into adulthood. "I didn't feel I could trust them," says Lack, PhD, now a psychologist who performs research on doctor-patient relations. It's a rare soul who truly enjoys visiting the doctor. But for a significant minority of the population, fear and anxiety...

Read the Beyond 'White Coat Syndrome' article > >

You may think you're having a heart attack, and it's true that some of the symptoms can be similar. However, most people having a panic attack have had one before, triggered by a similar event or situation.

The chest pain of a panic attack usually stays in the mid-chest area (the pain of a heart attack commonly moves toward the left arm or jaw). You may also have rapid breathing, rapid heartbeat, and fear. A panic attack usually lasts only a few minutes, comes suddenly and disappears suddenly, but leaves you exhausted.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on February 27, 2015

Today on WebMD

young leukemia patient
Unhappy couple
embarrassed woman
Phobias frightened eyes
stressed boy in classroom
Distressed teen girl in dramatic lighting
man hiding with phone
chain watch