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Panic Disorder

Description: a condition marked by recurrent episodes of paralyzing fear, known as panic attacks.

Panic disorder, which affects three million to six million Americans, typically surfaces between ages fifteen and nineteen. Panic attacks may be precipitated by specific events, but they can also come crashing down without warning, even during sleep.

The average attack lasts about five to ten minutes. “It can be very scary for kids,” says Dr. Charles Irwin. “They usually come into the emergency room terrified that either they’re going crazy or they’re having a heart attack.” Some of the features of a panic attack do in fact mimic those of a heart attack: palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness and nausea. A child having these symptoms should be evaluated carefully to determine the underlying cause.

Many youngsters never have another panic attack, which tells us they don’t suffer from panic disorder. However, those afflicted with the condition usually develop deep-seated anxieties about when and where the next one will occur. They avoid so many places and situations, their world often becomes progressively smaller. For instance, if they were driving during their last panic attack, they may become phobic about being in a car.

Signs of Panic Disorder

At least four of the following symptoms:

  • palpitations
  • sweating
  • trembling and shaking
  • shortness of breath
  • choking sensation 
  • chest pain or discomfort
  • nausea or abdominal distress
  • dizziness, lightheadedness 
  • feeling detached from oneself (depersonalization)
  • feeling unreal (derealization)
  • fear of losing control or going crazy
  • fear of dying
  • sensation of numbness or tingling
  • chills or hot flashes
  • worrying about future panic attacks
Last Updated
Caring for Your Teenager (Copyright © 2003 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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