What Is Agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder that causes people to avoid
places and situations that might cause them to feel:
People with agoraphobia often have symptoms of a panic attack,
such as a rapid heartbeat and nausea, when they find themselves in a stressful
situation. They may also experience these symptoms before they even enter the
situation they dread. In some cases, the condition can be so severe that people
avoid doing daily activities, such as going to the bank or grocery store, and
stay inside their homes most of the day.
Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that 0.8 percent of American
adults have agoraphobia. About 40 percent of cases are considered severe. When
the condition is more advanced, agoraphobia can be very disabling. People with agoraphobia
often realize their fear is irrational, but they’re unable to do anything about
it. This can interfere with their personal relationships and performance at work
If you suspect you have agoraphobia, it’s important to receive
treatment as soon as possible. Treatment can help you manage your symptoms and
improve your quality of life. Depending on the severity of your condition, treatment
may consist of therapy, medications, and lifestyle remedies.
What Are the Symptoms of
People with agoraphobia are typically:
- afraid of leaving their home for extended
periods of time
- afraid of being alone in the social situation
- afraid of losing control in a public place
- afraid of being in places where it would be
difficult to escape, such as a car or elevator
- detached or estranged from others
- anxious or agitated
Agoraphobia often coincides with panic attacks. Panic attacks are
a series of symptoms that sometimes occur in people with anxiety and other
mental health disorders. Panic attacks can include a wide range of severe physical
symptoms, such as:
- chest pain
- a racing heart
- shortness of breath
- hot flashes
- tingling sensations
People with agoraphobia may experience panic attacks whenever
they enter a stressful or uncomfortable situation, which further enhances their
fear of being in an uncomfortable situation.
What Causes Agoraphobia?
The exact cause of agoraphobia isn’t known. However, there are
several factors that are known to increase your risk of developing agoraphobia.
These include having:
Agoraphobia is also more common in women than in men. It usually begins
in young adulthood, with 20 years being the average age of onset. However, symptoms
of the condition can emerge at any age.
How Is Agoraphobia Diagnosed?
Agoraphobia is diagnosed based on symptoms and signs. Your doctor
will ask you about your symptoms, including when they started and how often you
experience them. They’ll ask questions related to your medical history and
family history as well. They may also perform blood tests to help rule out
physical causes for your symptoms.
In order to be diagnosed with agoraphobia, your symptoms need to meet
certain criteria listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic
and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The DSM is a manual often
used by healthcare providers to diagnose mental health conditions.
You must feel intense fear or anxiety in two of more of the
following situations to be diagnosed with agoraphobia:
- using public transportation, such as a train or
- being in open spaces, such as a store or parking
- being in enclosed spaces, such as an elevator or
- being in a crowd
- being away from home alone
There are additional criteria for a diagnosis of panic disorder
with agoraphobia. You must have recurrent panic attacks, and at least one panic
attack must have been followed by:
- a fear of having more panic attacks
- a fear of the consequences of panic attacks, such
as having a heart attack or losing control
- a change in your behavior as a result of the panic
You won’t be diagnosed with agoraphobia if your symptoms are
caused by another illness. They also can’t be caused by substance abuse or
How Is Agoraphobia Treated?
There are a number of different treatments for agoraphobia. You’ll
most likely need a combination of treatment methods.
Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, involves meeting with
a therapist or other mental health professional on a regular basis. This gives
you the opportunity to talk about your fears and any issues that may be
contributing to your fears. Psychotherapy is often combined with medications
for optimum effectiveness. It’s generally a short-term treatment that can be
stopped once you’re able to cope with your fears and anxiety.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common form
of psychotherapy used to treat people with agoraphobia. CBT can help you
understand the distorted feelings and views associated with agoraphobia. It can
also teach you how to work through stressful situations by replacing the
distorted thoughts with healthy thoughts, allowing you to regain a sense of
control in your life.
Exposure therapy can also help you overcome your fears. In this
type of therapy, you’re gently and slowly exposed to the situations or places you
fear. This may make your fear diminish over time.
Certain medications can help relieve your agoraphobia or panic
attack symptoms. These include:
Lifestyle changes won’t necessarily treat agoraphobia, but they
may help reduce everyday anxiety. You may want to try:
- exercising regularly to increase the production
of brain chemicals that make you feel happier and more relaxed
- eating a healthy diet that consists of whole
grains, vegetables, and lean protein so you feel better overall
- practicing daily meditation or deep breathing
exercises to reduce anxiety and fight the onset of panic attacks
During treatment, it’s best to avoid taking dietary supplements
and herbs. These natural remedies aren’t proven to treat anxiety, and they may interfere
with the effectiveness of prescribed medications.
What Is the Outlook for People
It isn’t always possible to prevent agoraphobia. However, early treatment for
anxiety or panic disorders may help. With treatment, you have a good chance of
getting better. Treatment tends to be easier and faster when it’s started
earlier, so if you suspect you have agoraphobia, don’t hesitate to seek help.
This disorder can be quite debilitating since it prevents you from
participating in everyday activities. There’s no cure, but treatment can greatly
relieve your symptoms and improve your quality of life.