Panic disorder - Symptoms 

Symptoms of panic disorder 

The symptoms of a panic attack can be very frightening and distressing.

Symptoms tend to occur suddenly, without warning and often for no apparent reason.

As well as overwhelming feelings of anxiety, a panic attack can also cause a variety of other symptoms, including:

  • a sensation that your heart is beating irregularly (palpitations)
  • sweating
  • trembling
  • hot flushes
  • chills
  • shortness of breath 
  • a choking sensation
  • chest pain
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • feeling faint
  • numbness or pins and needles
  • dry mouth 
  • a need to go to the toilet
  • ringing in your ears 
  • a feeling of dread or a fear of dying
  • a churning stomach
  • a tingling sensation in your fingers
  • shivering
  • shaking

The physical symptoms of a panic attack are unpleasant, and they can also be accompanied by thoughts of fear and terror.

For this reason, people with panic disorder start to fear the next attack, which creates a cycle of living in ‘fear of fear’ and adds to the sense of panic.

Sometimes, the symptoms of a panic attack can be so intense they can make you feel like you're having a heart attack.

However, it's important to be aware that symptoms such as a racing heartbeat and shortness of breath won't result in you having a heart attack. Although panic attacks can often be frightening, they don't cause any physical harm. People who have had panic disorder for some time usually learn to recognise this 'heart attack sensation' and become more aware of how to control their symptoms.

Most panic attacks last for five to 20 minutes. Some attacks have been reported to have lasted up to an hour. However, it's likely that in these cases one attack occurred straight after another or high levels of anxiety were felt after the first attack.

Recurrent panic attacks

People with panic disorder have panic attacks on a recurring basis. Some people have attacks once or twice a month, while others have them several times a week.

People with panic disorder also tend to have ongoing and constant feelings of worry and anxiety. The panic attacks associated with panic disorder can be very unpredictable.

If you have panic disorder, you may also feel anxious about when your next attack will be.


During a panic attack your symptoms can be so intense and out of your control that you can feel detached from the situation, your body and your surroundings. It can almost feel as if you're an observer, making the situation seem very unreal.

This sense of detachment is known as depersonalisation. Being detached from the situation doesn't provide any relief or make a panic attack less frightening. Instead, it often makes the experience more confusing and disorientating.

Page last reviewed: 15/08/2014

Next review due: 15/08/2016


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The 5 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

unhappycrocheter said on 07 November 2014

I suffer with agoraphobia, and have panic attacks.But since my mum passed away in December 2013 and my aunty passed away 2 weeks ago, my panic has been much worse, i am finding it hard to cope with the symptoms as they haven't been this bad for a long time. I try all sorts of things to calm myself, but the feeling of panic can last hours, I constantly shake and feel light headed and my legs feel as if they won't hold me up. I get annoyed with myself for feeling as i do. I look at other people and their lives seem perfect and i think why can't I be like them.

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JamesAP said on 05 November 2014

I totally reilate to kiwi, i also get panic attacks, a irrational fear of dying, i recently started to suffer from acid reflux, the sensation in my chest of burning and tightness scared the life out of me, i've found myself googling ever little symptoms and making the worst of them, the more i panic, the more my stomach creates acid, the more discomfort i get, i know this maybe hard but just talk to family or friends, i did this and its helped greatly, make a joke of it if thats the way you deal with stuff, i went for an interview today and mid interview I convinced myself i was dying, this brought on the panic and all the symptoms with panic, a big massive circle, remember your not alone, i've found myself sobbing down the phone to my siblings but this has taken a bit of the burdan off me, i hope this helps knowing that there are people dealing with the same attacks, your not alone

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PC123 said on 15 October 2014

i have been suffering with these symptoms, didn't think anything of it until i started feeling breathless and shaky and iv had around 3 panic attack in the space of 2 weeks! these attacks consisted of hardly being able to breath, shaky, sweating, chest pain, dizziness, the feeling of palpitations and uncontrollably crying, it was just before i was meant to perform a speech in front of around 50 people, and i was unable to present the speech and since that day i have had 3 and all because i have been nervous about something! i have always suffered from a bit of anxiety?

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kiwi marshmallow said on 05 October 2014

I am a sufferer of severe anxiety. I've had anxiety for 7+ years now, but it's been the last 2 years that my symptoms have started to become out of control. I have phoned 999 on several occasions (more than I can count on both hands) and nhs 24 on more occasions that I would like to admit. I phone for the same reason each time: convinced that I am having a heart attack. The chest pain I get in some occasions is pretty unbearable to the point that I am doubled over in pain. Each time I get an ECG, the doctors/nurses tell me that there is nothing to worry about, but even this doesn't convince me.
It gets to the point where I feel the need to ask for every possible test under the sun. (CT, ECG, check that my arteries aren't clogged up) The list goes on.
I am now on a waiting list for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which is a long waiting list, but I know that I will eventually be seen.
A lot of my friends ask me why I am pursuing the career path that I am (student Nurse in 2nd year of my degree) and sometimes I also question this. Even those in a medical profession suffer from symptoms that they cannot control.
I write this as I am having chest pain, but trying to remain calm and convince myself that it is not a heart attack, and that it's just my anxiety flaring up.
I don't want to waste hospital time and resources because I am having a bout of panic, but I that my health is genuinely in danger.
I have a fear of dying by dropping down dead, and these symptoms do not help it.
Does anyone else suffer from these sorts of symptoms?
I genuinely feel like I am trapped, and that my fear is taking over my life, and my independence.
I cannot enjoy life as I used to, and feel like a completely different person.

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Gesangbuch said on 24 July 2013

Everything described in the list of symptoms for panic disorder are of course fitting, at least in my case. The physical symptoms- in my case actual arrhymias, stomach problems etc (all thoroughly checked-out with no results suggesting a physical problem of any kind)- can distract one from 'believing' that thew results tell the truth. Thus it is hard to apply a healing state of mind when it is the mind itself which is in trouble. It seems to me that it is the shift from a focus on physical symptoms (and associated fears of them), to the state of mind which supports and perhaps creates them, is the crucial first step in dealing with the disorder. I'm nearly 70 and have a firm belief that it's never too late to fix these problems, though I remain skeptical that (expensive??) courses in something like CBT would in fact solve my problems any better than my own inherent strength of mind can do.

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