A panic attack is an intense rush of fear or anxiety that causes a person to feel like they’re in imminent danger when no danger is present. It can last from a few minutes to half an hour; however, the physical and emotional effects of the attack can last much longer.

Experiencing a panic attack doesn’t necessarily mean you have panic disorder. Panic disorder is characterised by repeated and unexpected panic attacks that severely disrupt your life. Suffering from a panic disorder may involve worrying about future panic attacks and changing your behaviour as a result, such as avoiding places or situations where panic attacks have previously occurred.


If you experience recurrent panic attacks, and at least one of the attacks leads to a month of increased anxiety or avoidant behavior, then you may have a panic disorder. You may also qualify for the diagnosis if you have recurrent or constant fears of having a panic attack even if you’ve only had a handful of attacks.

To be officially diagnosed with a panic disorder you must experience at least four of the following symptoms while having a panic attack:

  • Pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  • Feeling of choking
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
  • Feelings of unreality or being detached from oneself
  • Fear of losing control or going crazy
  • Fear of dying
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Chills or hot flashes

Panic attacks may last for about ten minutes, but while you’re having one it seems to last forever. Try to remind yourself that it will pass. Panic and anxiety always pass. However, the attack can linger with you for a while afterwards, leaving you feeling jittery and anxious.