Panic attacks can feel like they overwhelm the brain. In some cases they can make it feel like something is wrong inside of your own head, and that you may even be losing touch with reality.
It's hard for people to believe that anxiety can be that powerful, so many people look for other possible health problems, and in some cases, there are those that believe that instead of panic attacks, they may be suffering from seizures.
Are Seizures Panic Attacks?
There are certainly issues with panic attacks that can feel like something as serious as a seizure, but they're very uncommon. Find out more about your panic with my free 7-minute anxiety test.
Difference Between Panic Attacks and Seizures
Seizures are a serious issue - one that can cause a great deal of concern and stress. But in nearly 100% of all cases where someone wonders whether they're having a panic attack or a seizure, the answer is panic attack. Make sure you've taken my anxiety test first if you haven't yet.
To be certain, there are ways that they can seem similar, and many people experience "brain symptoms" before panic occurs. But there are some very clear differences between the two as well, including:
- Non-Responsiveness When someone has a seizure, they are rarely aware of the world around them. Anyone that tries to talk to them can't, and some people with seizures have no memory of the event. This is of course very different than suffering from a panic attack, where you can easily interact with the world around you, even though you may not feel up to it.
- Time Panic attacks take roughly 10 minutes to peak and then begin a slow decline. Seizures hit instantly, without warning, and reach their peak in only a few seconds. They tend not to last as long either.
- Behaviors Seizures affect motor movements in the brain. Often the person engages in some type of jerking or repetitive motion, and when they do they are almost never aware of it. For example, someone with a seizure may move their mouth up and down, but not know it's occurring. Panic attacks tend not to have this type of symptom.
- Age Panic attacks tend to affect those in their teens to mid-thirties (although they can occur at any age). Epilepsy (the disorder that causes seizures) occurs usually at birth, or in the elderly, but very rarely has an age of onset in that same time frame.
- Anxiety Seizures can certainly cause anxiety in their own way, but seizures aren't anxiety. It's very uncommon for someone to experience severe anxiety and disaster thinking during a seizure. On the other hand, severe anxiety is a characteristic of panic attacks.
These are the basic differences between the two. Also, the vast majority of seizures are full seizures, and they are nothing at all like panic attacks.
However, there is such thing as a "partial seizure," and anyone that has looked up panic attacks and seizures online has probably found an example of someone claiming their panic attack was really a partial seizure. However:
- Partial seizures are also incredibly rare on their own. Less than 1% of those in the US have epilepsy, and significantly fewer have partial seizures. On the other hand, as many as 6 to 12% of the population will have a panic attack in their lifetime.
- Partial seizures that cause only the same symptoms of panic attacks are even rarer still. Partial seizures can affect nearly any part of the brain. For them to cause panic attack-like symptoms, they have to affect only the specific parts of the brain that are similar, without causing any other symptoms that clearly resemble seizures.
These numbers show that the chance of a partial seizure mimicking a panic attack is exceedingly rare, and even then there should be many differences. On the other hand, panic attacks are unfortunately very common, and far more likely to be what is affecting you. The chance of you having panic attack seizures is too small to worry about.
Control Panic Attacks and Conquer the Fear
The only exception to this is that epilepsy can contribute to fears that ultimately lead to panic attacks, and there is some evidence that epileptics may be more prone to panic attacks, though this is not clear. Regardless, those are individuals that know they have epilepsy, and their panic attacks are likely brought on by a fear that another seizure will occur. They are not mistaking panic attacks for seizures.
The easiest way to start treating these attacks isn't to worry about whether or not you think they're seizures. It's to start attacking the panic and anxiety so that the anxiety itself is under control and the panic attacks cease.
I've helped thousands of people control their panic attacks starting with my free 7-minute anxiety test. If you haven't yet, make sure you take the text now to find out more about your panic attacks and how to reduce them.
Start the test here, now.
Thompson, Siân A., John S. Duncan, and Shelagh JM Smith. Partial seizures presenting as panic attacks. BMJ: British Medical Journal 321.7267 (2000): 1002.
Arun P, Chavan BS, Kumar N. Seizure disorder presenting as panic attack. Indian J Med Sci 2002;56:486-8
Picardi, Angelo, et al. Partial seizures due to sclerosis of the right amygdala presenting as panic disorder. Psychopathology 40.3 (2007): 178-183.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Jun 06, 2018.