Anxiety and panic attacks have similarities and differences. The two conditions share the same symptoms, causes and risk factors, but panic attacks can lead to more intense reactions and severe physical symptoms.

The similarities may confuse you. The best way to determine when a person is experiencing either a panic or an anxiety attack is by looking at what triggered it and how long it lasted. 

“An anxiety attack often comes in reaction to a stressor,” Cathy Frank, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health Services at Henry Ford Health System, told ABC News. “Panic attack on the other hand doesn't come in reaction to a stressor. It's unprovoked and unpredictable.”

She noted anxiety attack is “very short lived” that when the stressor goes away, so does the anxiety attack. But for panic attack, a person tends to worry even before the attack. 

The difference between panic attacks and anxiety attacks

Panic and anxiety attacks share many similar emotional and physical symptoms, according to Healthline. But there are still differences between the two that could help in diagnosis. 

Anxiety elevates when a situation is perceived as stressful or threatening, while panic attacks occur out of the blue. A panic attack commonly leads to more intense physical symptoms, but those experiencing anxiety may feel mild or moderate reactions. 

“An anxiety attack often comes in reaction to a stressor,” Frank said. “Panic attack on the other hand doesn't come in reaction to a stressor. It's unprovoked and unpredictable. And during a panic attack the individual is seized with terror, fear or apprehension. They may feel that they're going to die or lose control or have a heart attack.”

What triggers anxiety and panic attacks? 

A stressful life event, such as the death of a loved oneTraumatic eventsChronic health conditionStress, such as work responsibilities,DepressionDrugs Alcohol

It is also important to note that a person can experience both anxiety and a panic attack at the same time. Anxiety occurs when one worries about a potentially stressful situation and when that situation happens, anxiety may culminate in a panic attack.