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Panic Disorders in Children Versus Adults|What is the Difference?

Anxiety is a part of life for children and adults – for children, they may experience anxiety before their first day of school, a test, or bringing home a bad test score to their parents. On the other hand, adults will deal with anxiety due to an upcoming job interview, date, or stress. 

Anxiety is a natural response to potential danger, but sometimes, these feelings of anxiety or fear become so intense that it adversely affects someone’s ability to function within their surroundings. When these feelings reach a point that they affect your daily life, it’s time to speak with a doctor.

After speaking to a physician, you may be diagnosed with something known as panic disorder, which according to the National Institute of Mental Health, is characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms. Some of these include heart palpitations, chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, or abdominal stress.

Panic disorders can be severe and affect both children and adults. An estimated 2.7 percent of adults in the United States had panic disorder in a given year. Another 2.3 percent of adolescents experienced the condition in a year. You may wonder, is there a difference?

Panic Disorder in Children

The primary difference between children and adults is that a child cannot process the world in ways adults are able due to a lack of development with their cognitive functions. It affects the way their minds can identify or respond to threats. It means they cannot realize if their fear reaction becomes pervasive or irrational – they only know what they’re feeling.

Aside from their inability to communicate their feelings, symptoms of panic disorder will differ in children. Panic disorders signs in children will include several different symptoms, which include:

  • Crying tantrums
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Constant restlessness
  • Frequent nightmares or periods of disturbed sleep
  • Irritability
  • Falling asleep in school

Separation anxiety is widespread in children because they are transitioning from dependence to becoming self-sufficient individuals. The condition was once only diagnosed in children but has been added for adults as well.

Panic Disorder in Adults

The most significant difference in panic disorder between adults and children is their ability to recognize and express their anxiety. Children find it challenging to vocalize their feelings, while adults can verbally acknowledge they’re anxious. The adult brain is developed, which makes it easier to recognize that these fears are irrational. 

Symptoms of anxiety that adults experience are less frequent in children, which include stomach aches and tense muscles. Adults may also cope by using drugs or alcohol, which is not likely in young children. Children only need to show one symptom to be diagnosed with the disorder, whereas adults need at least three.

If you or your child is experiencing anxiety attacks and you believe it could be panic disorder, you must speak with a professional immediately to weigh your options. You can live your life without the stress of an anxiety attack with the right help.

Sources

Separation anxiety in children: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001542.htm

Bidzan-Bluma, I., & Lipowska, M. (2018, April 19). Physical Activity and Cognitive Functioning of Children: A Systematic Review. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5923842/

Anxiety Disorders. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml

Panic Disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/panic-disorder.shtml

Turner, S., Mota, N., Bolton, J., & Sareen, J. (2018, September). Self-medication with alcohol or drugs for mood and anxiety disorders: A narrative review of the epidemiological literature. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6175215/

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