Getting the Right Diagnosis

Is It Panic Disorder or Another Condition?

Even though panic attacks are the hallmark feature of panic disorder, these attacks can also be a sign that you are dealing with a different condition. Similar anxiety disorders share in many of the same and closely related symptom, such as extreme fear, overwhelming anxiety, and uncomfortable somatic sensations. Additionally, panic attacks have been associated with other mental health disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and phobias.

The following offers some information on other mental health conditions that have similar symptoms to panic disorder:

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is a mental health condition which symptoms can be categorized into three categories: re-experiencing the event, avoidance behaviors and increased arousal. Re-experiencing symptoms can lead to panic attacks or similar symptoms when the person is faced with situations, flashbacks, or nightmares that remind him of the traumatic event. The person will avoid places, situations, and memories that cause him to think of the past event. He may also be easily startled, have difficulty focusing, and feel irritable.  

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

GAD is an anxiety disorder that has many similarities to panic disorder. This condition is marked by a variety of anxiety-related symptoms including, difficulty concentrating, restless or feeling keyed up or on edge, fatigue, muscle aches and tension, irritability, and sleep disturbances.

However, GAD sufferers do not experience unexpected panic attacks as those with panic disorder do.


Often co-occurring with panic disorder, agoraphobia involves a fear of having a panic attack in a place or situation that would be challenging to flee from and/or would be perceived of as embarrassing.

Agoraphobics have fears regarding certain situations, including leaving the home without being accompanied by a trusted loved one, traveling on public transportation, or being in crowded areas. These fears can become so intense that the person may be at risk for being homebound with agoraphobia.

Specific Phobias

Phobias are often mistaken as panic disorder, as both conditions often involve high levels of fear and anxiety along with physical symptoms. Those dealing with a specific phobia may experience panic attacks. The difference is that with phobias, the attacks are triggered by a feared event, situation, or object. Whereas panic attacks associated with panic disorder occur unexpectedly, without any warning or trigger.  


Depression is a mood disorder that is often described as prolonged feelings of sadness. More than “just the blues,” people suffering from depression typically experience a variety of symptoms. Common symptoms of depression include feelings of worthlessness and guilt, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, fatigue, weight and appetite changes, sleep disturbances, lack of concentration, and suicidal thoughts.


Getting the Right Diagnosis

Aside from the disorders listed here, there are numerous medical and mental health conditions that can be confused with panic disorder. These conditions can also co-occur with panic disorder. If you believe you are experiencing the symptoms of panic disorder or another condition, do not hesitate to get the help you need. In order to the get the right diagnosis, it is important that you set up an appointment with your doctor.

During this initial appointment, your clinician will be interesting in collecting as much information as possible to assist in making an accurate diagnosis. He will want to know about your current symptoms, including the severity of symptoms, when you first became aware of them, and how they have impacted the quality of your life. Be prepared to discuss your medical history, ask questions, and discuss your treatment options. Your doctor will assist in establishing a treatment plan that will serve as a guide towards recovery.


American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

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