How long do panic attacks last?

Naomi Carr
Author: Naomi Carr Medical Reviewer: Dr. Jenni Jacobsen, PhD Last updated:

Panic attacks can cause intense physical and emotional symptoms and can be very distressing. Living with the fear of another panic attack occurring can also cause ongoing feelings of anxiety. However, there are several types of treatment available to help with panic attacks, including medication, therapy, and self-help techniques.

What are panic attacks?

Panic attacks are the sudden onset of severe physical symptoms, accompanied by intense fear. They often occur with no warning or trigger, even while sleeping, and can be very distressing and frightening [1].

If someone experiences regular panic attacks, they may be diagnosed with panic disorder, although panic attacks can occur within the context of several other conditions, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety disorder, or certain medical conditions [2][3].

Many people experience symptoms of anxiety, ranging from mild to severe, and panic is the most severe form of anxiety. A panic attack can involve symptoms that are so extreme that it is common for people to believe that they are experiencing a heart attack or other physical health condition [4].

Symptoms of a panic attack typically include [3][5]:

  • Extreme feeling of fear
  • Fast heart rate or palpitations
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Nausea or stomachache
  • A feeling of losing control or loss of sense of reality
  • Numbness or tingling in hands and feet
  • Chills or hot flushes
  • Feeling dizzy or faint
  • Being afraid of dying

How long do panic attacks usually last?

The symptoms of a panic attack will peak within a few minutes and typically last for up to 30 minutes, although can sometimes last for up to an hour [1][4].

A sudden onset of extreme fear and physical symptoms is listed as a criterion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) for a panic attack, so if these symptoms emerge slowly and do not peak within minutes, the symptoms may be due to another condition or a sign of worsening anxiety, rather than a panic attack [3][5].

What’s the longest a panic attack can last?

Most symptoms of a panic attack will subside within half an hour, although there are some physical sensations or emotional symptoms that may linger for some time afterward, potentially lasting several hours or more.

For example, it is common for someone with panic disorder to experience an ongoing fear of a panic attack reoccurring, which may cause lingering feelings of dread and anxiety that do not go away [3]. There may also be persistent symptoms of anxiety that continue due to an anxiety disorder or triggering circumstance in which the panic attack occurred [1].

Similarly, someone may experience persistent feelings of anxiety around their physical health following a panic attack, particularly if they have little or no experience of panic attacks and feel concerned that they have a serious medical condition such as a heart attack [4].

Some of the physical sensations of a panic attack can linger after the attack has subsided, such as tension in the muscles or feelings of nausea, as the body adjusts adrenaline levels and begins to relax following the ‘fight or flight’ response [5].

How long do anxiety attacks last?

Panic attacks are different from anxiety attacks and may have different durations and symptoms. As ‘anxiety attack’ is not an official diagnosis in the DSM-5, there are no clear criteria for an anxiety attack, so they may differ from person to person depending on their symptoms and experiences [3].

Commonly, people view an anxiety attack as a steady increase in severity of their anxiety symptoms, rather than a sudden onset. These symptoms include excessive worrying that doesn’t stop, increased sleep disturbances, or mild physical sensations such as muscle tension and fatigue [6][7].

Anxiety attacks can last for several days, particularly if they are triggered by an upcoming event or situation that causes anxiety, or they could just last up to a few hours. Again, this will vary from person to person, based upon the type of anxiety disorder, and circumstances in which the anxiety attack occurs [6][7].

How to deal with panic attacks

If you experience panic attacks, you may wish to seek professional advice on how to manage your symptoms. Available treatments include:

Medication

Various types of medications can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and panic, such as antidepressants, antihistamines, benzodiazepines, and beta-blockers [2][6].

Your doctor will help you to decide what is appropriate for you and make a prescription based on your symptoms and condition. Ensure you take your medication exactly as prescribed to avoid adverse effects.

Therapy

Various types of therapy can be useful in reducing panic attacks, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which can help you to learn positive coping strategies and reduce or change harmful thoughts and behaviors [1][2].

Self-help

There are many techniques and tips you can use to manage the occurrence of anxiety symptoms and panic attacks, such as [1][5][6]:

  • Breathing exercises: Try taking slow and deep breaths, counting to 5 as you inhale and counting to 5 as you exhale. This can help to reduce your heart rate and shallow breathing, which are common symptoms of a panic attack, and reduce the severity of your symptoms.
  • Relaxation: Meditation, yoga, and mindfulness activities can also help to calm your body and mind, reducing the likelihood of a panic attack occurring.
  • Exercise: Engaging in regular exercise can help to release the built-up adrenaline and energy that may contribute to panic attacks, while also improving your mental and physical wellbeing.
  • Staying healthy: Eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of sleep, and avoiding or reducing caffeine and alcohol intake can also reduce the chances of a panic attack occurring.
Resources
  1. National Health Service. (Reviewed 2020). Panic Disorder. NHS. Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/panic-disorder/
  2. Cackovic, C. Nazir, S., & Marwaha, R. (2022). Panic Disorder. In StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island, FL: StatPearls Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430973/
  3. American Psychiatric Association. (2013, text revision 2022). Anxiety Disorders. In The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed., text rev.). APA. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425787.x05_Anxiety_Disorders
  4. Anxiety & Depression Association of America. (Updated 2021). Panic Disorder. ADAA. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/panic-disorder-agoraphobia/symptoms
  5. Victoria State Government Department of Health. (Reviewed 2022). Panic Attack. Better Health. Retrieved from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/panic-attack
  6. National Institute of Mental Health. (Reviewed 2022). Anxiety Disorders. NIH. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders
  7. Penninx, B.W., Pine, D.S., Holmes, E.A., & Reif, A. (2021). Anxiety Disorders. Lancet (London, England), 397(10277), 914–927. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(21)00359-7
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Naomi Carr
Author Naomi Carr Writer

Naomi Carr serves as our talented writer, dedicated to raising awareness about mental health and providing support to those in need.

Published: May 5th 2023, Last edited: Sep 22nd 2023

Dr. Jenni Jacobsen, PhD
Medical Reviewer Dr. Jenni Jacobsen, PhD LSW, MSW

Dr. Jenni Jacobsen is our expert medical reviewer, holding roles as a licensed social worker, behavioral health consultant, and PhD in clinical psychology.

Content reviewed by a medical professional. Last reviewed: May 5th 2023