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Panic attacks - How do doctors diagnose panic disorder?

BMJ Group Medical Reference

Your doctor will listen to you describe your symptoms to work out whether you have panic disorder.

Your GP will try to find out if you have 4 out of the 13 symptoms of panic disorder. These symptoms are:[14]

  • A racing, pounding, or skipping heartbeat

  • Sweating

  • Trembling or shaking

  • Difficulty catching your breath or feeling like you are being smothered

  • Feeling like you are choking

  • Pain in your chest

  • Feeling sick or having an upset stomach

  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or feeling like you are going to faint

  • Feeling as if things around you aren't real or that you're watching yourself from far away

  • Feeling like you are losing control or going mad

  • Feeling like you are going to die

  • Numbness or tingling in your body

  • Chills or hot flushes.

To find out more, see What are the symptoms of panic disorder?

Your GP won't usually need to do any tests to diagnose panic disorder.

  • To be diagnosed with panic disorder you need to have had at least two panic attacks. But most people with this condition have had many more.

  • You also have to either worry all the time about having another attack or change your daily routine to try to avoid having another one.

If you have panic disorder, your panic attacks come out of the blue. They're not triggered by things such as spiders or heights. Also, the panic attacks are not caused by illness, alcohol, or taking legal or illegal drugs. And the symptoms are not related to any other kind of mental health problem.

Many people with panic disorder also have agoraphobia. This means they are afraid to be in a place it may be difficult to escape from, or where it would be hard to get help if they had a panic attack.[14] If you have agoraphobia you avoid going to certain places or doing things that you think might trigger another panic attack. For more details, see More about agoraphobia.

Limited symptom attacks

If you get fewer than 4 of the 13 symptoms of a panic attack, it's called a limited symptom attack. These limited attacks are common. But many people who have them get full panic attacks at some point in their life.[9]



Agoraphobia is often described as a fear of open spaces, but agoraphobia is more complicated than that. Technically, agoraphobia is a fear some people have of being in a place where they may feel trapped, with nowhere to escape or hide if they were to start feeling very anxious or start having a panic attack. Agoraphobia can stop people being able to do everyday things, like using public transport or going shopping.

For more terms related to Panic attacks


For references related to Panic attacks click here.
Last Updated: March 13, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.
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