Tests and diagnosis

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Your doctor or other health care provider must determine if you have panic attacks, panic disorder or another condition, such as heart or thyroid problems, that resembles panic symptoms.

To help pinpoint a diagnosis, you may have:

  • A complete physical exam
  • Blood tests to check your thyroid and other possible conditions and tests on your heart, such as an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
  • A psychological evaluation to talk about your symptoms, stressful situations, fears or concerns, relationship problems, and other issues affecting your life

You may fill out a psychological self-assessment or questionnaire. You also may be asked about alcohol or other substance use.

Criteria for diagnosis of panic disorder

Not everyone who has panic attacks has a panic disorder. For a diagnosis of panic disorder, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, lists these points:

  • You have frequent, unexpected panic attacks.
  • At least one of your attacks has been followed by one month or more of ongoing worry about having another attack; continued fear of the consequences of an attack, such as losing control, having a heart attack or "going crazy"; or significantly changing your behavior, such as avoiding situations that you think may trigger a panic attack.
  • Your panic attacks aren't caused by drugs or other substance use, a medical condition, or another mental health condition, such as social phobia or obsessive compulsive disorder.

If you have panic attacks but not a diagnosed panic disorder, you can still benefit from treatment. If panic attacks aren't treated, they can get worse and develop into panic disorder or phobias.

May 19, 2015