Symptoms A-Z

Anxiety Attack Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand your anxiety attack symptoms, including 5 causes & common questions.

Anxiety Attack Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your anxiety attack

Anxiety Attack Symptoms

It’s hard to breathe, your heart is racing, your chest hurts, and you feel like you are about to die. The symptoms of an anxiety attack, or “panic attack,” are often severe, debilitating, and disturbing. One second you feel fine, the next you’re spiraling out of control — it all builds up within minutes. It’s easy to confuse this phenomenon with a heart attack or an asthma attack because of the physicality of the symptoms; the fear is real and the cause is not always apparent.

What are anxiety attacks?

Anxiety attacks are the manifestation of a fight-or-flight response gone awry. The same feelings which rise up seemingly at random or in response to an emotional stimulus are the same one might feel when being hunted by a tiger — a surge of unfettered adrenaline. It’s no wonder that severe panic attacks can be so frightening and so debilitating. Nonetheless, it is still important to make sure what you experienced was a panic attack and not simply a manifestation of another condition. As most of these same symptoms are seen in arrhythmias, heart attacks, asthma attacks, and other diseases, it is important not to wave them off as nothing.

Common characteristics of an anxiety attack

Anxiety Attack may be associated with these common symptoms [1]:

Anxiety Attack Causes

Anxiety attacks are a relatively common psychiatric condition, but they have strong physical symptoms which are also seen in many other medical conditions. If you have never had an anxiety attack before, it can be terrifying and easily confused with another disease. However, the opposite can be true as well — you don’t want to shrug off a heart attack as “just an anxiety attack.” Most people experience at least one panic attack in their lifetime, but this does not mean they have a disorder. It is only when such attacks become frequent and debilitating do we define it as a disease. Below is a summary of panic attack causes and other diseases which may cause similar symptoms [1].

Psychiatric

Psychiatric disorders associated with an anxiety attack include the following [2].

  • Anxiety disorder: Some people have anxiety disorders in which they get frequent anxiety attacks.
  • Post-traumatic stress: Individuals can experience panic-type symptoms after exposure to extreme trauma.

Cardiovascular

The palpitations and shortness of breath of a heart arrhythmia are often confused with anxiety attacks [3].

Respiratory

Causes of anxiety attacks related to the respiratory system may include the following [4,5].

  • Asthma attack: Asthma attacks are associated with difficulty breathing and an elevated heart rate.
  • Lung disease exacerbation: Similar to asthma, acute exacerbations of chronic lung disease can cause panic attack-like symptoms.

Environmental

Environmental causes can be related to certain exposures or lifestyle habits [6].

  • Toxins: Various environmental toxins can lead to anxiety and anxiety attack-like symptoms.
  • Drug overdose: Overdosing on certain stimulant drugs, such as caffeine, amphetamine, or cocaine can lead to symptoms similar to an anxiety attack, such as palpitations and extreme anxiety.
  • Allergic reaction: A severe allergic reaction can create symptoms of an anxiety attack.

Endocrine

Rare tumors of endocrine organs can produce adrenaline and other hormones leading to panic attack-like symptoms.

Metabolic

Metabolic abnormalities such as severe infection, traumatic injury, or alterations in temperature or electrolyte levels can trigger physical symptoms similar to those of an anxiety attack.

5 Possible Anxiety Attack Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced anxiety attack. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Panic disorder

Panic disorder is a chronic condition that involves repeated episodes of panic attacks, as well as worry about future attacks or consequences of attacks, or unhelpful changes in behavior to avoid the attacks. Panic attacks are episodes of sudden-onset fear, discomfort, and/or other symptoms tha...

Panic or anxiety attack(s)

Panic or anxiety attacks are sudden feelings of intense fear or stress without true danger. Symptoms usually peak and then decrease within minutes. One may feel as if they are losing control or have physical symptoms like sweating or a racing heart. A panic attack can be a very scary experience and should be taken seriously.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms:

Symptoms that always occur with panic or anxiety attack(s): anxiety or anxiety/panic attacks

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Anxiety Attack Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your anxiety attack

Generalized anxiety disorder (gad)

Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health problems in the United States. Generalized anxiety disorder refers to ongoing feelings of worry and anxiousness that persists for at least six months. Generalized anxiety disorde...

Acute stress disorder

Acute stress disorder (ASD) is a psychological condition caused by trauma, especially by any violent attack such as robbery, assault, or combat. "Acute" means that clear symptoms appear within days of the traumatic event. Most susceptible are those with a previous history o...

Post-traumatic stress disorder (ptsd)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that develops as a reaction of trauma. One can get PTSD after living through or seeing a traumatic event, such as war, a hurricane, sexual assault, physical abuse, or a bad accident. PTSD causes stress and fear after the danger is over.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: psychological or physiological distress

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Anxiety Attack Treatments and Relief

Anxiety attacks are generally predictable in how they come on, which is rapidly over a twenty-minute period or so. It can then take a few minutes to calm back down to baseline. Many people experience at least one anxiety attack throughout their lives, which can be managed at home. However, when these attacks become frequent and debilitating, it can be helpful to seek care from a professional to reduce their frequency and severity.

At-home treatment

Symptoms of your anxiety attack may be helped significantly by the following.

  • Find a quiet place: Many people find it easier to manage an anxiety attack when they are isolated from sources of stress or excess stimulation.
  • Identify and avoid triggers: Sometimes, triggers of anxiety attacks are apparent. It can be helpful to look for patterns in triggers of anxiety attacks and avoid those triggers.
  • Seek help: Reaching out to a friend or a mental health professional can help as they can calm you down and offer support through the anxiety attack.

When to see a doctor

If more conservative measures are not effective, you should consult your physician. He or she may recommend the following to help alleviate your symptoms.

  • Therapy: Various cognitive and behavioral therapy techniques exist which can help reduce anxiety attacks, making your condition more manageable.
  • Medications: Some prescription medications can be used to reduce the frequency of anxiety attacks or to significantly shorten their duration when you feel one coming on.

When it is an emergency

You should seek help without delay if you have:

FAQs About Anxiety Attack

Here are some frequently asked questions about anxiety attack.

What can trigger an anxiety attack?

Anxiety attacks are triggered by a variety of things that generally fall into the category of life stresses. These can be anything from fear of social situations to worries about work or interpersonal relationships. Anything that adds to daily stress can trigger the biological and mental processes that initiate a panic attack.

Can you die from having a panic attack?

Generally, no. Panic attacks are not fatal. They can be dangerous if they happen during a moment where a person can harm themselves or someone else (e.g. operating a vehicle, walking across the street) or if the body is unable to handle the increased arousal from the panic attack. A heart attack (myocardial infarction) caused by increased heart rate in an individual with severe cardiovascular disease may result in death. However, these circumstances are very rare.

What causes anxiety attacks for no reason?

Most anxiety attacks are triggered by an errant thought, emotion, or exposure. It can be challenging for patients to discover their trigger, and for other patients, it may be obvious. A counseling session with a psychologist or psychiatrist may be helpful in discovering a trigger. Additionally, diseases that cause unforeseen increased arousal can cause panic attacks. Diseases that increase heart rate or drop blood pressure suddenly may also trigger a panic attack.

Why do I only have anxiety attacks at night?

It is not known what causes nocturnal anxiety attacks. They can, however, be a sign of a more comprehensive sleep disorder. If they persist, they should be discussed with a medical professional. It should be noted, however, that anxiety attacks at night are different from night terrors in which an individual experiences a fear-inducing dream state and may sleep walk or even act out elements of his or her dream.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Anxiety Attack

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Are your symptoms causing difficulty at work, socializing, or spending time with friends & family?
  • Have you ever been diagnosed with a psychiatric issue, such as depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, or anxiety disorder?
  • Are there specific situations that cause your anxiety, or does it seem that almost anything will make you anxious?
  • Are you feeling irritable (easily made upset)?

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your anxiety attack

Anxiety Attack Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced anxiety attack have also experienced:

  • 4% Fatigue
  • 3% Anxiety
  • 3% Tremor

People who have experienced anxiety attack were most often matched with:

  • 40% Panic Or Anxiety Attack(S)
  • 30% Panic Disorder
  • 30% Generalized Anxiety Disorder (Gad)

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Anxiety Attack Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your anxiety attack

References

  1. Panic attack: Symptoms. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. ADAA Link
  2. Anxiety disorders. National Institute of Mental Health. Updated July 2018. NIMH Link
  3. McCann U. Anxiety and heart disease. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Johns Hopkins Medicine Link
  4. Nardi AE. Panic disorder is closely associated with respiratory obstructive illnesses. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. 2009;179(3). ATS Journals Link
  5. Sardinha A, Freire RC, Zin WA, Nardi AE. Respiratory manifestations of panic disorder: Causes, consequences and therapeutic implications. Jornal Brasileiro de Pneumologia. 2009;35(7):698-708. NCBI Link
  6. Bystritsky A, Khalsa SS, Cameron ME, Schiffman J. Current diagnosis and treatment of anxiety disorders. Pharmacy and Therapeutics. 2013;38(1):41-4, 57. NCBI Link

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.