The difference is that panic attacks describe a constellation of symptoms that are episodic, severe, and random in onset, while panic disorder is an anxiety disorder which have panic attacks as its characteristic clinical presentation. So basically, panic attacks are just a group of episodic, severe, and spontaneous symptoms, while panic disorder is an anxiety disorder that has panic attacks as its main characteristic. Panic attacks are symptoms, while panic disorder is a mental disorder. Having panic attacks does not necessarily mean that you have panic disorder...you can have panic attacks without having panic disorder. However, all with panic disorder have panic attacks.