Panic Disorder:
The key characteristic of panic disorder is recurring panic attacks and persistent concern or worry that an attack will lead to several more panic attacks, or physical or psychological harm. Children and teenagers who experience panic disorder can often begin to avoid going places, and engaging in activities, out of a fear that a panic attack might occur. A panic attack is defined as an episode of intense fear and unease, comprised of both physical symptoms and a number of fearful thoughts.

Primary Symptoms:
Physical symptoms of a panic attack include increased heart rate and chest pain, choking sensations, difficulty breathing, sweating and trembling, gastrointestinal distress, body temperature changes, hot or cold flushes, dizziness, and numbness or tingling in the limbs. Cognitive symptoms (thoughts), include fear of dying or losing control of one’s mind or self, feeling as if one is in a dream and events seem unreal. Symptoms of panic attacks often accelerate quickly (within 10 minutes) and peak after several minutes before diminishing either rapidly or gradually. Very often, panic attacks are unexpected in nature and feel as if they are coming on “out of the blue”. For example, one may be in a very calming place (e.g., at home eating breakfast) and still may have a panic attack. Other times, people may have panic attacks in shopping malls, or restaurants, and the panic attack causes the person to flee the situation. Very often, children and adolescents begin to avoid the situations in which they have experienced a panic attack in the past. In very severe cases, a person’s panic becomes so widespread that he or she requires a “safety person” to help, or remains home for long periods of time. If a child or adolescent’s life becomes very restricted, avoiding many normal daily activities, it is time to seek some professional help for your child.

Cognitive behavioral treatment strategies have been found to be effective in the treatment of adults with panic disorder. Currently, several research studies are underway which have provided initial support for the efficacy of using cognitive behavioral treatment strategies with children and adolescents. Research has shown that children and adolescents with panic disorder seem to benefit from treatments that have several components. Children can be taught ways to identify and change dysfunctional thought patterns that serve to perpetuate fear. Children learn to identify “automatic anxious thoughts” that trigger physical feelings of panic, and learn to change these thoughts so that they are more realistic. In essence, the therapist teaches the child or adolescent “healthy thinking”. Another component of panic treatment involves exposure therapy. In therapy, children are also taught specialized techniques for reducing their fear of their physical anxious feelings. With the guide of the therapist, children are taught to utilize their skills to enter situations that they had formerly feared or avoided, and are taught to cope more adaptively with these situations.

For information on the Intensive Eight Day Treatment Program for Panic Disorder at Boston University Click Here!

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Last Updated
May 5, 2015