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Panic Disorder

What is it?

Panic disorder is a common and treatable disorder. Children with panic 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.

What causes panic disorder in a child?

Genetics has been found to play an important role in determining the likelihood of a person experiencing panic attacks. Research suggests that having a first degree relative such as a parent or sibling who suffers from panic attacks, makes it more likely that you will also develop panic attacks at some point in your life. Other causes of panic attacks can be broken down into psychological, pharmacological (relating to the uses and effects of drugs) and environmental factors.

What are the symptoms of panic disorder in a child?

These are the most common symptoms of panic disorder in children. Typically, several symptoms are present during a panic attack.

  • Racing heart or heart palpitations
  • Choking sensations
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sweating/hot or cold flashes
  • Trembling
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness or tingling in the limbs
  • Fear of dying or losing control
  • Feeling as if one is in a dream
  • Fear of going crazy
  • Feeling like one needs to “escape”

Panic symptoms often come on quickly (within 10 minutes) and can last for minutes to over an hour before fading away. Panic attacks are sometimes unexpected and feel as if they happen “out of the blue.” Other times, certain things or places can trigger an attack. It is common for children with panic disorder to avoid situations where they believe an attack might occur. In severe cases, avoiding activities or places may result in the child needing a “safety person” to go with them when they leave home. Or they may refuse to leave home altogether.

Key points about panic disorder in children

  • Panic Disorder is a type of mental health problem. A child with PD can have severe attack at any time and anywhere.
  • The cause of panic disorder can be genetical, pharmacological or psychological.
  • Symptoms of panic disorder can last minutes or up to an hour. 
  • An evaluation from a physician or pediatrician must be sought as early as possible
  • There is no known cure for panic disorder
  • Treatment physical activity, cognitive behavior therapy or medicine.