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Author: Dr Sabina DosaniConsultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist

Panic attacks are surprisingly common in children and teenagers – between 3% to 5% of those under 18. More common in teenagers, they can be truly terrifying and have a significant impact on your child’s quality of life. We can help.

What are panic attacks?

Panic attacks are a type of anxiety disorder that can severely impact on a child’s ability to take part in everyday activities. Parents are often relieved to hear that panic attacks respond well to treatment.

  1. Panic disorder is the term used to describe when panic attacks happen frequently and occur over several months.
  2. For anyone who has not had a panic attack, they can be difficult to understand. It’s important to note that you cannot simply stop yourself having a panic attack, although being supported in a calm and reassuring manner can significantly help the individual.
  3. Panic attacks can be triggered by a specific event, for instance a crowded room or can come on with no explanation. The unpredictability of the panic attack can make them even more terrifying.

If your child or teenager has had more than one panic attack, if they becoming more fearful of certain situations, becoming depressed, self harming or have any other signs that you are worried about it is time to seek professional help.

Read practical tips on managing a Panic attack by Dr Dosani, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist

90%
90% of young people who have panic attacks will also have another anxiety disorder


Panic attack symptoms

There are two component parts to panic attacks or panic disorder as it is sometimes called. The first part is the panic attack itself, the second part is the fear of future panic attacks.

Panic attacks have terrifying physical symptoms including:

  • Chest pains
  • Dizziness
  • Racing heart beat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Numbness or tingling in fingers and limbs
  • Stomach complaints
  • A sense of choking
  • Changes to body temperature

During a panic attack the child or teenager may feel that they are dying, or that they are in a dream and they may feel somehow detached from the situation.

The second part of the panic attack is the very real fear of having a future attack. This can result in the child or teenager choosing not to partake in activities, leave the house or even attend school.

Could not have asked for any better – the whole thing was very professional and top quality.

Tom, Essex


How can I help my child with their panic attacks?

The first step in helping your child is to make sure they receive a thorough diagnosis, as often panic attacks can accompany another condition, such as autism or depression.

Whilst there may not be an obvious cause as to why the child has panic attacks, having a professional trained in understanding the condition can not only teach the child effective ways of managing the onset of an attack, but can also deal with any root cause.

Children and teenagers who suffer with panic attacks respond very well to talking therapies such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).

Some children and teenagers with anxiety disorders may need medication to help bring their anxiety levels down sufficiently for talking therapies to be effective. A psychiatrist will be able to assess your child’s needs and recommend the correct treatment programme for them.

Young people with panic attacks or develop panic disorder, describe feeling suddenly and overwhelmingly afraid. Panic attacks are more likely to occur with teenagers and can be absolutely terrifying.
MBBS, MSc, MRCPsych

Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist
London

Dr Sabina Dosani is a highly experienced Consultant Psychiatrist currently working for the Anna Freud Centre looking after Children and Adolescents. She has a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery as well as being a member of the Royal College...

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