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Panic Disorder vs Generalized Anxiety Disorder

The symptoms of panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) can have a profound negative impact on the substance and quality of a person’s life. While the two conditions share certain similarities, understanding the key differences between panic disorder vs. generalized anxiety disorder can help you find the most effective treatment for yourself or a loved one. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health, our residential mental health facilities in Atlanta, Georgia can help. Call us now at 770-202-1274 or verify your insurance now.

What Is Panic Disorder?

Panic disorder is characterized by recurrent panic attacks, which involve the sudden, unpredictable onset of highly distressing physical and psychological symptoms. 

To qualify as a panic attack as defined in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), this experience must include at least four of the following symptoms:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Hot flashes and/or chills
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sensation of being smothered or unable to catch your breath
  • Feeling as though you are being choked
  • Tingling or numbness, typically in your fingers and toes
  • Sense of being detached from your body or mind, or somehow separated from your environment (as though the world had been drained of color or you are viewing your surroundings through a pane of glass)
  • Fear that you are “going crazy” or have lost control of our thoughts and actions
  • Intense fear of imminent death

Panic attack symptoms typically peak within a few minutes, then dissipate. However, though they are relatively brief, they can be extremely upsetting to the individual who endures them. 

It is no exaggeration to note that, as indicated by the final symptom listed above, someone who is in the midst of a panic attack may truly believe that they are about to die.

Basic Facts About Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, involves overwhelming, persistent fear and/or worry. Often, these emotions may occur for no apparent reason whatsoever. If they are triggered by an actual threat or legitimate cause for concern, they will be excessive and disproportionate.

To meet the criteria for GAD as established in the DSM-5, a person’s struggles with fear and/or worry must be accompanied by at least three of the following symptoms:

  • Feeling restless, keyed up, or on edge
  • Becoming easily exhausted
  • Difficulty concentrating, which can include moments of their mind going blank
  • Frequent irritability
  • Recurring muscle tension
  • Having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep

These symptoms must be present most days for a period of at least six months, and they must be severe enough to cause great emotional distress and/or undermine the person’s ability to function in school, at work, or in other important areas. 

Panic Disorder vs. Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Having reviewed the fundamental features of both panic disorder and GAD, we’re now ready to discuss some of the more prominent similarities and differences between these two conditions.


The similarities between panic disorder vs. generalized anxiety disorder include:

  • The symptoms of both panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder can occur at any time, with no apparent external cause or trigger.
  • Both disorders can be sources of considerable distress, causing people to alter their behaviors and diminishing their ability to function in important areas of life.
  • GAD and panic disorder are both considerably more common among women than among men. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the past year prevalence of panic disorder is 3.8% among women and 1.6% among men. For GAD, the past year rates are 3.4% for women and 1.9% for men.
  • Both panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder are treatable conditions. (We’ll discuss treatment options for both disorders in greater detail later in this post.)


Some of the more significant differences between panic disorder vs. generalized anxiety disorder include:

  • While both disorders can cause physical and psychological distress, the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder are primarily psychological, while those of panic disorder are predominantly physical.
  • People who have panic disorder usually develop symptoms sooner than those who have GAD. For panic disorder, the median age of symptom onset is about 30.3. For GAD, it is about 34.9.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder is a bit more common than panic disorder. The NIMH reports that about 4.7% of adults in the United States will have symptoms of panic disorder over the course of their lifetime. NIMH data indicates that the lifetime prevalence of GAD among U.S. adults is about 5.7%.

More: Panic Attacks vs Anxiety Attacks

How Are These Disorders Treated?

As we noted when listing the similarities between panic disorder vs. generalized anxiety disorder, both of these conditions are treatable.

The ideal course of treatment for someone who has either of these disorders can be influenced by an array of personal factors, such as:

  • The patient’s age, gender, and developmental level
  • How long they have been living with GAD or panic disorder
  • How their life has been impacted by the symptoms they’ve been experiencing
  • If they have previously received treatment for the disorder
  • If they have any co-occurring mental health concerns
  • If they have a history of substance abuse and addiction
  • If they have a history of untreated trauma

When a person gets help for panic disorder or GAD at a reputable treatment center such as Peachtree Wellness Solutions, they will first complete a thorough assessment to identify factors such as the ones listed above.

Based on this assessment, their treatment provider may recommend one or more of the following levels of care:

Depending on the patient’s specific needs and treatment goals, their care may include both prescription medication and therapy.

Various medications have proved to be effective at easing the symptoms of GAD, panic disorder, and other anxiety disorders. Examples of commonly prescribed meds include:

  • Antidepressants 
  • Benzodiazepines 
  • Beta blockers
  • Buspirone
  • Gabapentin

The therapeutic aspect of treatment for panic disorder and GAD may include:

Another similarity between panic disorder vs. generalized anxiety disorder is that managing the symptoms of these conditions can be a lifelong effort. To ensure patients have the support they need after they have completed treatment, most reputable and effective centers provide discharge planning or aftercare support services.

Begin Treatment for Panic Disorder or Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Atlanta

If you or someone that you care about has been living with the symptoms of panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder, Peachtree Wellness Solutions offers multiple anxiety treatment programs.

Programming options at our anxiety treatment center in Atlanta, Georgia, include residential and outpatient care, as well as dual diagnosis services for patients whose mental health struggles are accompanied by co-occurring substance use disorders.

In all of our programs, you or your loved one will follow a personalized treatment plan and work in close collaboration with a team of dedicated experts. We will encourage you to play an active role in all aspects of your care, so that you can become an informed self-advocate and take ownership of your continued recovery.To learn more or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Admissions page or call us today.