Panic Disorder

By Vanessa Rasmussen, © 2004, All rights reserved.

A panic attack is a sudden, unexpected, and frightening episode in which a person often feels as if he or she is about to die or pass out. Panic disorder is characterized by chronic, repeated, and unexpected panic attacks - bouts of overwhelming fear of being in danger when there is no specific cause for the fear. In-between panic attacks, persons with panic disorder worry excessively about when and where the next attack may occur.

Some of the symptoms of a person having a panic disorder are:

  • When someone has repeated panic attacks involving an unexpected or uncontrollable period of fear, extreme physical and emotional discomfort, a racing pulse, sense of unreality, heart palpitations, dizziness, trembling or shaking and an overwhelming sense of doom.

These attacks can last minutes or hours. If parents do not recognize these attacks or ignore them as simply behavioral problems, they can get much worse and can have serious complications. Young people with an anxiety disorder typically are so afraid, worried, or uneasy that they cannot function normally. Anxiety disorders can be long-lasting and interfere greatly with a child's life. If not treated early, anxiety disorders can lead to:

  • Failure to attend school regularly or an inability to finish school;
  • impaired relations with peers;
  • low self-esteem;
  • substance abuse;
  • difficulty in adapting to work situations; and
  • Anxiety disorder in adulthood.

Panic disorder is a common and treatable disorder. Panic disorder often begins during adolescence, although it may start during childhood, and sometimes runs in families. Women are twice more likely than men to experience this disorder and some people may be genetically predisposed to the disorder. About 1 to 2 percent of Americans suffer from panic disorder.

A combination of treatment modalities including cognitive behavior therapy, psycho-education, relaxation techniques, medication and support groups seems to provide the best outcome for the treatment of panic disorder, as it is important to address both the physical and psychological aspects of this condition. Through counseling with a trained professional, these attacks can be controlled and eventually stopped entirely. Some children may require medication to assist them with their panic disorder. Child counseling greatly enhances the effectiveness of medication.

Specific treatment for panic disorder will be determined for your child by your physician based on:

  • age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the disease
  • tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disease
  • Parent or caretaker's opinion or preference

Well-timed treatment can prevent the complications of panic disorder such as agoraphobia, depression and substance abuse.

Copyright 2001, 2004. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article in whole or in part without written or verbal permission is strictly prohibited. For information about reprinting this article, contact the copyright owner: Vanessa Rasmussen, Ph.D, Starting a Day Care Center,