Panic Disorder in Children and Adolescents

  • A panic attack is defined as an episode of intense fear and unease, comprised of both physical symptoms (e.g. sweaty palms, heart pounding) and a number of fearful thoughts (e.g. “I am going to die”)
  • Panic Disorder is not common in young children
  • Individuals with panic disorder commonly begin to experience symptoms in adolescence
  • Panic attacks are unpredictable, causing some kids to develop intense anxiety between panic attacks about experiencing another panic attack.
  • Panic attacks are not caused by medical conditions or health problems and can occur any time

Sometimes, adolescents will come to avoid places where they have experienced a panic attack in the past. Additionally, many kids with Panic Disorder report avoiding places which would be difficult to escape from if a panic attack occurred. For many kids, this means that they stop going to the mall or other crowded places, to school, or to sporting events they used to enjoy. The avoidance of places or situations may come to greatly restrict one’s life. When one’s life becomes restricted by the disorder, the condition is called Agoraphobia. Approximately 1/3 of those with Panic Disorder have Agoraphobia.

Symptoms

Key symptoms of Panic Disorder are the recurrence of panic attacks and the persistent concern that an attack will lead to more attacks, physical harm, or psychological harm. Common physical panic symptoms include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Chest pain
  • Choking sensations
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sweating and trembling
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Body temperature changes
  • Hot or cold flushes
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness or tingling in the limbs