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Anxiety in Children

- Summary
- About child anxiety
- Types and differences
- Potential causes
- Signs and symptoms
- Diagnosis methods
- Treatment and prevention
- Questions for your doctor

Reviewed By:
Steven A. King, M.D.

Summary

Anxiety is a natural physiological and psychological response to certain stressful situations. Normally, anxiety is part of the body’s alarm system, alerting a person to danger or providing extra energy to help accomplish a task. However, some children experience excessive anxiety that may indicate the presence of an anxiety disorder or another mental health condition.

Anxiety causes symptoms such as racing pulse, sweating, dry mouth, tremors and stomach upset. Children who are anxious may worry about situations before they even occur and may feel a general fear about the well-being of family and friends. They may worry about potential problems at school or when engaged in activities. Severe anxiety can interfere with a child’s ability to live a productive life.

A single stressful event can trigger temporary anxiety in a child. The cause of long-term anxiety is often more difficult to trace. Family difficulties – such as marital strain, financial problems, parental alcoholism or illness of a family member – may create an atmosphere of tension that breeds long-term anxiety. Genetic factors may also play a role.

Anxiety disorders are among the most common psychological conditions to affect children. Up to 10 percent of children may have at least one anxiety disorder, according to the National Mental Health Association. Examples of anxiety disorders that commonly affect children include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), separation anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder and phobias.

Early diagnosis and treatment of anxiety in children is crucial. Failure to adequately treat anxiety can result in loss of friendships, social and academic difficulties, and feelings of low self-worth. Physicians and mental health professionals can work together to rule out other physical or emotional disorders before diagnosing a child with an anxiety disorder. Sometimes, anxiety may be a symptom of another psychological disorder such as depression.

Children diagnosed with anxiety disorders have a number of effective treatment options. In many cases, a combination of psychotherapy and medications may be the best treatment.

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Review Date: 01-29-2007
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