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What’s the difference between a panic attack and anxiety?

Susan Vachon

Medically reviewed by Susan Vachon, PA-C on January 10, 2022

The main difference between a panic attack and anxiety is that during a panic attack you may feel more intense symptoms over a shorter amount of time such as chest pain, feeling light-headed, shortness of breath or a feeling of doom. This is due to a heightened flight-or-flight response that your body feels when it thinks you’re in danger. With anxiety, on the other hand, you may experience symptoms but these can feel less like a life- threatening situation. Symptoms of anxiety can be restlessness, irritability, inability to focus, muscle tension and trouble sleeping. These symptoms tend to be less severe but can persist over a longer period of time.

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