Panic Attacks: Symptoms and Diagnosis of Panic Attacks and Agoraphobia

The formal diagnosis of a panic attack rests on these symptoms, which can be evaluated by psychiatrists and other mental health professionals.

Symptoms of Panic Attacks and Agoraphobia

The DSM-IV TR (where ‘IV TR’ indicates fourth edition, text revision) summarizes that “The essential feature of a Panic Attack is a discrete period of intense fear or discomfort in the absence of real danger that is accompanied by at least 4 of 13 somatic or cognitive symptoms” (p. 430). Note that when the other criteria for a panic attack are met, but fewer than 4 symptoms are experienced, the attack is called a limited-symptom attack. The following full diagnostic criteria for panic attacks are reproduced verbatim from page 432 of the DSM-IV TR.

Criteria for Panic Attack

A discrete period of intense fear or discomfort, in which four (or more) of the following symptoms developed abruptly and reached a peak within 10 minutes:

  1. palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
  2. sweating
  3. trembling or shaking
  4. sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  5. feeling of choking
  6. chest pain or discomfort
  7. nausea or abdominal distress
  8. feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
  9. derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
  10. fear of losing control or going crazy
  11. fear of dying
  12. paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations)
  13. chills or hot flushes

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