Treatment for panic disorder is often very successful and usually consists of a pharmacological and psychotherapeutic component.
Psychotherapy: Your child’s clinician will likely start cognitive behavioral therapy to begin reducing negative, avoidance-based behavior patterns. Another common form of treatment is exposure therapy, which counteracts anticipatory anxiety through gradual exposure to situations that are associated with attacks.
Pharmacological: Various classes of drugs may be prescribed to treat the effects of panic attacks, starting with antidepressants, which have proven effective. The next step might be a benzodiazepine(Xanax, among others). Though these drugs carry a risk of dependence, a clinician notes that it is rare in children if the course is correctly monitored.
Many people will have a single panic attack at some point in their life and never have another. But if the attacks continue, developing into panic disorder, they are more likely to become more frequent, and the child’s movements and activities to become more restricted as a result. Panic disorder does not get worse before it gets better—it just gets worse.
Is it dangerous?
Panic attacks themselves are not dangerous or life threatening, though they might feel that way to a child, and fear of them can severely affect her quality of life. The attacks are simply the body’s natural fight or flight response triggered at an inappropriate time. Attacks differ from other panic reactions since there is no sudden rise of stress hormones.
Do drugs help?
Yes. Some antidepressants also have anti-anxiety properties, and can be used to eliminate the reoccurrence of attacks. Many cases can be treated with medication and support. Sedatives in the benzodiazepene family work very quickly to counter symptoms of a panic attack, though they are more habit-forming than other drugs. Often, just having a pill available helps a person deal with her anxiety.
What causes it?
Experts are unsure about the root causes of panic disorder—there may be a genetic component, but stress and life changes have also been implicated in the onset of the disorder.