Researchers estimate that 10 percent children and teens have panic attacks, crippling them with uncontrollable fear.
"It's basically the brain's alarm signals are going off," accordign to Dr. John March, a child psychologist at Duke Univresity. "There's nothing going on that would suggest that level of fear is appropriate."
Experts believe mixed signals in the brain cause the body to go into survival mode.
Most patients have one full-blown attack a week. Symptoms include a fast heart rate, shaking, shortness of breath, nausea and feelings of paralysis. The attacks can last from five to 30 minutes.
"Because panic attacks are so awful, kids tend not to put themselves in situations where they're going to have panic," March said. "We have kids, for example, that are on homebound instruction because they can't go to school."
Medications can help prevent attacks, but there is no research to show which ones work best in young patients.
March is leading the first study on panic disorder medications and adolescents.
"It will be the first randomized control trial of any medication," he said.
The hope is that the study will pinpoint the most effective medicines. A discovery could help thousands of young people finally enjoy being a kid.
Anxiety disorders such as panic attacks can be inherited. The attacks can also be triggered by trauma.
For more information on Duke's panic attack study call (919) 416-2081.
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