When answering the question, "what is the difference between panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder?" a discussion of the symptoms is first on this list, as these differences are easily the most striking. The primary difference is that GAD symptoms are mainly anxiety-based, while the main characteristic of panic disorder is panic attacks. People with GAD tend not to have a large number of panic attacks, but they might experience occasional attacks.
People with GAD tend to have chronic worries and concerns about things that are unlikely to happen; for example someone with this disorder might worry constantly about the possibility of being in a traffic accident. People with GAD also often worry excessively even over largely inconsequential matters, and tend to automatically think the worst when something goes wrong or happens unexpectedly. Chronic physical symptoms such as muscle tension and aches, headaches, fatigue, trembling and twitching, irritability, difficulty swallowing, and the feeling of a lump in the throat, are common.
Panic disorder is classed as an anxiety disorder because people with this condition have significant anxiety. In contrast to GAD, however, the anxiety experienced by people with panic disorder is specifically related to their panic attacks. A panic attack is a short, intense episode in which the individual has overwhelming feelings of dread and fear, which might or might not be related to a specific situation. Physical symptoms such as dizziness, sweating, chills, nausea, trembling and shaking, abdominal cramps, throat tightness, shortness of breath, numbness in extremities, rapid heartbeat, palpitations, and chest pain, are commonly experienced during a panic attack.
The attacks are associated with significant anxiety, as someone with this disorder will become anxious about when and where attacks might occur, and might begin avoiding certain locations and situations to try and avoid triggering another attack.