Panic disorder is characterized by sudden attacks of terror, usually accompanied by a pounding heart, sweatiness, weakness, faintness or dizziness. Because these attacks can occur at random, some people begin to restrict their activities out of fear of having a panic episode.
When such avoidance becomes severe, the condition has progressed to agoraphobia. Agoraphobia involves intense fear and anxiety of any place or situation where escape might be difficult, leading to a debilitating avoidance of settings such as being alone outside of the home; traveling in a car, bus, or airplane; attending school; or being in any crowded area. Avoidance behaviors typically follow an increase in the frequency of panic attacks, making it important to seek treatment before the situation escalates.
Physical symptoms of panic disorder frequently include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath or abdominal pain. During these attacks, people with panic disorder may flush or feel chilled, their hands may tingle or feel numb and they may experience nausea, dizziness or smothering sensations. Panic attacks usually produce a sense of unreality, a fear of impending doom or a fear of losing control. Symptoms may occur without warning, increasing fear and distress. It is not unusual for people suffering a panic attack to seek assistance in an emergency room, believing they are experiencing heart problems. Panic attacks can occur at any time, even during sleep. An attack usually peaks within 10 minutes, but some symptoms may last much longer.
Treatment for Panic Disorder, Panic Attacks, Agoraphobia:
Although panic disorder often first appears in late adolescence or early adulthood, children can also experience panic attacks. Cognitive-Behavioral therapy (including in-vivo or exposure therapy) is the scientifically-based treatment effective for panic attacks and panic disorder. Similar to adults, children and teens are taught cognitive and behavioral methods which focus on building skills to deal with panic and anxiety. They then have the opportunity to practice these skills in actual anxiety-producing situations (exposure). Interoceptive exposure may also be used to help a child overcome the fear of the physical symptoms of panic. In addition to training in behavioral methods, emphasis is also placed on teaching strategies to manage general stress and anxiety, which can often be triggers for panic.
There is also a supportive component to therapy that allows the child to discuss life stressors and concerns. Parents are educated on the tools their child is learning so they can support a child’s progress outside of treatment. With parent permission, our therapists will work with your child’s school, pediatrician, psychiatrist and other community providers as needed.
Our focus is on treating the “whole child,” so issues other than anxiety may also be addressed in treatment.
For more information regarding treatment for children and adolescents, or to schedule an initial evaluation for your child, please contact Dr. Lori Kasmen at (610) 667-6490 ext 21 or email@example.com
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