Children and adolescents with panic disorder, a type of anxiety disorder, have unexpected and repeated periods of intense fear or discomfort, along with other symptoms such as a racing heartbeat or feeling short of breath. These periods are called “panic attacks” and last minutes to hours. Panic attacks frequently develop without warning. Panic disorder is a common and treatable disorder.
Symptoms of a panic attack include:
- Intense fearfulness (a sense that something terrible is happening)
- Racing or pounding heartbeat
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Shortness of breath or a feeling of being smothered
- Trembling or shaking
- Sense of unreality
- Fear of dying, losing control, or losing your mind
Panic disorder often begins during adolescence, although it may start during childhood, and sometimes runs in families.
Panic attacks can interfere with a child’s or adolescent’s relationships, schoolwork, and normal development. Attacks can lead to not just severe anxiety, but can also affect other parts of a child’s mood or functioning and place them at higher risk of developing depression, agoraphobia (fear of going out in public), suicidal thoughts or behavior, and/or using alcohol and other drugs.
When properly evaluated and diagnosed, panic disorder usually responds well to treatment. Children and adolescents with symptoms of panic attacks should first be evaluated by their family physician or pediatrician. If no other physical illness or condition is found as a cause for the symptoms, a comprehensive evaluation by a child and adolescent behavioral health clinician should be obtained. Treatment for panic disorder may include a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Early treatment can prevent the complications of panic disorder such as agoraphobia, depression and substance use.
To learn more about panic disorder, visit the AACAP website at the link below: