Part 4 – Parents Need to Know about Panic Disorder

Have you ever observed unreasonable fears or unexplainable episodes in your son or daughter that caused you to wonder if they have panic anxietydisorder? My daughter first started showing signs of this in high school. I was baffled by it. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Was she just over-reacting or trying to get attention?  It can be extremely distressing and mysterious.  You know something is wrong, but can’t make sense of it. If this is your situation, then you will find this blog very helpful. As overwhelming as panic disorder can be please be encouraged to know it is very treatable.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, my source of this information (nami.org), panic disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms including chest pain, heart palpitation, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal distress. These episodes, called panic attacks, are uncontrollable panic responses to ordinary and non-threatening situations, and they are the defining symptom for panic disorder. More than two million American adults ages 18 – 54 have panic disorder in a given year. Panic disorder typically develops in late adolescence or early adulthood.

Many who are diagnosed with panic disorder develop intense anxiety between episodes. It is not unusual for a person living with panic disorder to develop phobias about, for example, supermarkets or other everyday places or situations associated with past episodes. Usually long-term, distressing, and restrictive, phobias can lead to other serious problems, such as depression.  As the frequency of panic attacks increases, a person may begin to avoid situations where they fear another attack may occur or where help would not be immediately available.

Symptoms: A person who experiences four or more panic attacks in a four-week period is said to be experiencing panic disorder. Panic disorder may also be indicated if a person experiences fewer than four panic episodes but has recurrent or constant fears of having another panic attack. To be diagnosed with panic disorder, a person must experience at least four of the following symptoms during a panic attack – sweating, hot or cold flashes, choking or smothering sensations, racing heart, labored breathing, trembling, chest pains, faintness, disorientation, or feelings of dying, losing control, or losing one’s mind. As you can see, this is a debilitating and frightening experience.

Causes: Panic disorder seems to run in families and can be inherited. This suggests that there can be a predisposition for it. Biological theories point to possible physical anomalies in a person’s nervous system. Panic attacks can happen to anyone. Chemical or hormonal imbalances, drugs or alcohol, stress, or other situational events can trigger panic attacks, which often are mistaken for heart attacks, heart diseases, or respiratory problems.

Treatment: Most often, medication is used to prevent panic attacks, and when it is used in combination with cognitive or behavioral therapy, it allows people to overcome their fears and embrace recovery. For some individuals, structured cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy alone may be effective.

Recovery: Most people living with panic disorder who are engaged in a  personalized treatment plan that includes effective medication and other treatment find that their symptoms are reduced enough to help them achieve fulfilled recovery.

Be encouraged. There is help. Hope is real. If you think your child is suffering from panic disorder take them for an evaluation as soon as possible if they are a minor. If they are an adult share this information with them and encourage them to consider seeking help. The sooner treatment begins, the sooner they can get relief.

Above all, remember this one thing – there is help.

May this Bible verse comfort you:

“Trust him at all times . . . pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”  Psalm 62:8

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