Panic Disorder: What Is It?
Panic disorder is a condition characterized by repeated, unpredictable panic attacks that can cause feelings of impending death, heart attack-like symptoms, and a disconnection from reality. People having panic attacks often experience palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, among other physical symptoms, and an intense urge to flee the situation. The condition is rare in childhood, but often manifests in adolescence, when a teenager might make repeated trips to doctors and the emergency room before the psychiatric disorder is diagnosed. Attacks can happen at any time and may be triggered by a variety of cues; a key feature of panic disorder is that fear of an attack can trigger a fresh one. For this reason, many kids with panic disorder avoid the locations of previous episodes and other places where help would not be available or escape would be difficult—ie enclosed or crowded places. Cars, tunnels, bridges, and subways can all be worrying to a child with panic disorder. Some kids with the disorder will avoid leaving the house alone; extreme cases may even become housebound.