Panic Attacks In Children

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Children can suffer from panic attacks just the same way adults do.

This is when the ‘flight-or-fight’ response, normally triggered by imminent danger, happens due to intense anxiety. This can happen with absolutely no obvious trigger, the brain tricking the autonomic nervous system to activate the ‘flight-or-fight’ response. The body is flooded with adrenaline and other hormones that cause physiological changes.

These can include an increased heart rate or palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, trembling and muscle tension. The panic attack can last from a few minutes to half an hour. However, the physical and emotional effects of the attack may last for much longer.

Approximately 35 per cent of people will experience a panic attack at some time in their lives. Without help, regular panic attacks can be severely disabling causing avoidance a wide range of situations for fear of experiencing an attack.

Symptoms of panic attacks in children include:

Feelings:

  • Anxious and irrational thinking including being hyper-vigilant and expecting danger
  • Dread, danger or foreboding
  • Fear of going mad, losing control or dying

Physical sensations:

  • Fight/flight/freeze response
  • Heart palpitations;
  • Hyperventilation, shortness of breath, or breath holding;
  • Dry mouth, choking or being unable to talk;
  • Lightheadedness and dizziness
  • Pins and needles in the limbs
  • Trembling or shaking, sweating
  • Hot and cold flushes
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Tense muscles
  • Muscle tension;

The cause of panic attacks are often hard to pin point but some things are known to increase the likelihood of an attack:

  • Stress hormones including adrenalin experienced for prolonged periods of time or due to a traumatic event.
  • Excessive caffeine intake from coffee or energy drinks.
  • Other stimulants including amphetamines that raise the heart rate.
  • Hyperventilation causing over oxygenated blood.
  • Intense physical exercise.
  • Sudden changes of environment e.g. overcrowded, hot or stuffy.

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