Panic Disorder in Children

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It is less likely for children before puberty to experience panic disorder, compared to adolescents. Panic attacks can occur independently or in combination with other anxiety disorders such as agoraphobia and separation anxiety. Panic attacks can also be present with other psychiatric disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or medical conditions such as asthma. Panic attacks can even trigger an asthma attack and vice versa.


What Is Panic Disorder?

Panic disorder is a condition that is marked by frequent panic attacks, which happen at least once a week. Panic attacks are episodes that typically last around 20 minutes, during which children may experience somatic symptoms, cognitive symptoms, or both. Diagnosis of panic disorder is made through clinical criteria. The condition can be treated with medications such as benzodiazepines or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), as well as behavioural therapy.


What Are The Symptoms Of Panic Disorder?

  •         Dizziness or light-headedness
  •         Racing or pounding heartbeat,
  •         Intense fearfulness (strong thinking something terrible is happening)
  •         Sense of unreality
  •         Fear of dying
  •         Losing control or going crazy
  •         Shortness of breath

Sometimes these patients are afraid to leave home, are anxious most of the time. If the patient is in severe depression, there may be at risk of suicidal behaviour.


How To Deal With Panic Disorder?

Diagnosing panic disorder can be challenging. It often involves several visits to physicians as well as multiple medical tests to ensure proper evaluation and diagnosis. However, panic disorder typically responds well to treatment, which can include various types of therapy and specific medications that can stop panic attacks. In some cases, psychotherapy may also be necessary. Early treatment can help prevent complications such as agoraphobia, fear of places, depression, and substance abuse.


What Can I Do To Help My Child Manage Panic Disorder?

Supporting a child with panic disorder can be challenging and often requires a multifaceted approach. From managing panic attacks to promoting overall well-being, parents play a crucial role in helping their child navigate through this challenging condition. Here, we explore practical strategies to assist parents in supporting their child with panic disorder.


Keep Record Of Each Panic Attack

To help your child manage panic attacks, it's important to keep a record of each attack, including its duration and any measures that helped to stop it. Make sure to bring this record with you to every healthcare provider appointment. Stress can trigger panic attacks, so it's essential to help your child manage stress.


Encourage Them To Talk

Encourage them to talk about their feelings and offer support and encouragement. Sometimes your child may need help finding a solution to a problem, or they may just need someone to listen.


Physical Activity

Physical activity, such as exercise, can reduce stress and improve sleep. Children and adolescents should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Consult your child's healthcare provider to create an exercise plan.


A Consistent Sleep Schedule

A consistent sleep schedule is also vital as lack of sleep can increase anxiety. Ensure that your child goes to bed and wakes up at the same time every day. Keep their bedroom quiet and free from distractions like TVs or computers.


Good Nutrition

Offer your child healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, fish, and beans. Limit their sugar intake as sugar can worsen symptoms. Avoid giving your child foods or drinks that contain caffeine as it can exacerbate anxiety and trigger a panic attack.


Advise Them Against Smoking

Lastly, have a conversation with your adolescent about the dangers of smoking. Nicotine and other harmful chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can increase anxiety. If your adolescent currently smokes and needs help to quit, ask their healthcare provider for assistance. Note that e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine and should be avoided. Always consult your adolescent's healthcare provider before using these products.


How Is Panic Disorder Treated?

Medications can be given to make your child feel more relaxed or to reduce anxiety that causes a panic attack. Some medications are taken only when your child is having a panic attack. Other medications can be taken to prevent panic attacks. These medications are usually used in combination with therapy or other treatments.


A behaviour therapist can help your child learn to control how their body responds to stressful situations. The therapist may also teach your child ways to relax muscles and slow down breathing during a panic attack. Additionally, the therapist may teach your child ways to recognise that the panic attack will not get worse and how to prevent or stop hyperventilation.


Exposure therapy is used to help your child change their reaction to triggers. Your child is exposed to triggers in small amounts, and the amount of exposure is gradually increased until it no longer triggers a panic attack.


How Is Panic Disorder Diagnosed?

Panic disorder is diagnosed based on a history of recurrent panic attacks, usually after a physical examination is done to rule out physical causes of somatic symptoms. Many children undergo considerable diagnostic testing before panic disorder is suspected. The presence of other disorders, especially asthma, can also complicate the diagnosis. Thorough screening for other disorders (e.g., obsessive-compulsive disorder [OCD], social anxiety disorder) is needed because any one of these disorders may be the primary problem causing panic attacks as a symptom.


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