Diagnostic Criteria

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


Note: Symptoms are presented for the purpose of identifying a panic attack; however, panic attack is not a mental disorder. Panic attacks can occur in the context of any anxiety disorder as well as other mental disorders (e.g., depressive disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder, substance use disorders) and some medical conditions (e.g., cardiac, respiratory, vestibular, gastrointestinal). When the presence of a panic attack is identified, it should be noted as a specifier (e.g., "posttraumatic stress disorder with panic attacks"). For panic disorder, the presence of panic attack is contained within the criteria for the disorder and panic attack is not used as a specifier.

An abrupt surge of intense fear or intense discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes, and during which time four (or more) of the following symptoms occur: (Note: The abrupt surge can occur from a calm state or an anxious state.)

  1. Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate.
  2. Sweating.
  3. Trembling or shaking.
  4. Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering.
  5. Feelings of choking.
  6. Chest pain or discomfort.
  7. Nausea or abdominal distress.
  8. Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint.
  9. Chills or heat sensations.
  10. Paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations).
  11. Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself).
  12. Fear of losing control or "going crazy."
  13. Fear of dying.

Note: Culture-specific symptoms (e.g., tinnitus, neck soreness, headache, uncontrollable screaming or crying) may be seen. Such symptoms should not count as one of the four required symptoms.

Differential Diagnosis

Other paroxysmal episodes (e.g., "anger attacks")

Panic attacks should not be diagnosed if the episodes do not involve the essential feature of an abrupt surge of intense fear or intense discomfort, but rather other emotional states (e.g., anger, grief).

Anxiety disorder due to another medical condition

Medical conditions that can cause or be misdiagnosed as panic attacks include hyperthyroidism, hyperparathyroidism, pheochromocytoma, vestibular dysfunctions, seizure disorders, and cardiopulmonary conditions (e.g., arrhythmias, supraventricular tachycardia, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Appropriate laboratory tests (e.g., serum calcium levels for hyperparathyroidism; Holter monitor for arrhythmias) or physical examinations (e.g., for cardiac conditions) may be helpful in determining the etiological role of another medical condition.

Substance/medication-induced anxiety disorder

Intoxication with central nervous system stimulants (e.g., cocaine, amphetamines, caffeine) or cannabis and withdrawal from central nervous system depressants (e.g., alcohol, barbiturates) can precipitate a panic attack. A detailed history should be taken to determine if the individual had panic attacks prior to excessive substance use. Features such as onset after age 45 years or the presence of atypical symptoms during a panic attack (e.g., vertigo, loss of consciousness, loss of bladder or bowel control, slurred speech, or amnesia) suggest the possibility that a medical condition or a substance may be causing the panic attack symptoms.

Panic disorder

Repeated unexpected panic attack are required but are not sufficient for the diagnosis of panic disorder (i.e., full diagnostic criteria for panic disorder must be met).

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