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What Are the Different Types of Panic Attacks?

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Updated September 02, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Question: What Are the Different Types of Panic Attacks?
Answer:

If you suffer with social anxiety disorder (SAD), you might have had what is known as a panic attack. A panic attack is the sudden onset of fear and anxiety accompanied by various physical and cognitive symptoms such as a racing heart, shortness of breath, and feelings of impending doom. Panic attacks can happen to people with SAD as well as other disorders such as panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Panic attacks that happen completely out of the blue without any trigger are known as unexpected or uncued panic attacks. These types of panic attacks are most common in people who suffer with panic disorder, who don't necessarily need any sort of trigger to experience a panic attack. On the other hand, a panic attack in someone with social anxiety disorder may be triggered by having to speak in public or a similar fear-inducing scenario. Sometimes people always experience a panic attack when faced with a situation like this, whereas other people only occasionally experience a panic attack, meaning they are "situationally-predisposed" to attacks.

Situationally-bound panic attacks are the types of panic attacks most often experienced by people with SAD. Triggering situations might include such things as public speaking, job interviews or being put on the spot in a group. These types of panic attacks always happen in response to the situation that triggers them. They are also common in people who suffer with specific phobias, such as a fear of heights.

Sources:

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

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