What Are the Criteria for a Panic Attack?

Patagonian forest
Enrique R Aguirre Aves/Oxford Scientific/Getty

Question: What Are the Criteria for a Panic Attack?


Panic attacks occur in the context of various anxiety disorders including panic disorder (with or without agoraphobia) and social anxiety disorder (SAD). The DSM-IV describes a panic attack as "a discrete period in which there is the sudden onset of intense apprehension, fearfulness, or terror, often associated with feelings of impending doom." (DSM-IV, p.


For an episode to be diagnosed as a panic attack, four or more of the following symptoms must appear quickly and reach a peak within 10 minutes:

  • palpitations or a pounding or racing heart
  • sweating
  • shaking or trembling
  • feeling short of breath
  • feeling like you are choking
  • chest pain or discomfort
  • nausea
  • feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • derealization or depersonalization
  • fear of going crazy or losing control
  • fear of dying
  • feelings of numbness or tingling
  • hot flushes or chills

Panic attacks that occur in the context of social anxiety disorder are triggered by social or performance situations or anticipation of these situations. People with SAD know that their panic attacks are triggered by social fears, whereas people with panic disorder sometimes search for a medical cause because their attacks are usually unpredictable.


American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Continue Reading