A panic attack, also known as an anxiety attack, is the abrupt onset of intense fear that can include a variety of physical and mental symptoms. It generally comes on without warning, reaches its peak within a few minutes and then quickly subsides. The feelings of panic are often out of proportion with the situation, which is usually non-threatening.
The entire attack usually lasts less than 15 minutes, but can be quite terrifying. Panic attacks can exist independently or as part of other anxiety disorders. For example, someone who suffers from social anxiety disorder may experience a panic attack when giving a public speech.