Agoraphobia: What is it?

agoraphobiaAn individual who suffers from agoraphobia fears being in places where they are at risk of having a panic attack that people may witness.[1] Oftentimes, the ability to leave these situations quickly may be difficult.1 Therefore, the person will deliberately avoid these places, such as crowded areas, special events, buses, trains, stores, shopping centers, and airplanes.1 An individual may find it difficult to feel safe in any type of public place, especially where there are large number of people.1 In fact, some have agoraphobia so severely that they only feel safe at home and rarely ever leave.1

More than 95 percent of people who have agoraphobia also have panic disorder, which is a risk factor for agoraphobia.1 The longer the individuals lives with panic disorder, the more likely they are to develop symptoms of agoraphobia.1

Individuals with agoraphobia will usually only experience symptoms when they find themselves in a situation or environment that causes them anxiety.1 As individuals with agoraphobia usually avoid situations that trigger panic, physical symptoms are rare; however, when they do occur, they may include the following:1

  • Accelerated Heart Beat
  • Rapid and Shallow Breathing
  • Feeling Hot/Flushed
  • Stomach Upset
  • Diarrhea
  • Trouble Swallowing
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Feeling Light Headed
  • Dizziness

There are also psychological symptoms that these individuals may experience:1

  • Feeling a Loss of Control
  • Depression
  • General Feeling of Dread
  • Dread of Being Left Alone
  • Believing Without Help They Would Not be Able to Survive or Function
  • Fear of Going Crazy
  • Fear They May Die

Due to these symptoms, many need reassurance from others that they are able to leave the house.1 Some need to have or take something with them in order to confront situations or places that trigger anxiety.1 Many escape immediately and return home.1

While it is not clear what the exact causes of panic disorder and agoraphobia are, many believe they are a learned behavior as they tend to re-occur in places or situations where they have in the past.1 Agoraphobia is thought to be a complication of a panic disorder, a disorder that is characterized by regular episodes of panic attacks that trigger severe physical reactions for no apparent reason.1 As they are extremely frightening, they cause people to think they are losing control or dying.1 Agoraphobia rarely develops without an accompanying panic disorder.1

Treatment usually involves a combination of medicine and psychotherapy.1 Anti-anxiety medicines and antidepressants are commonly prescribed, although sometimes a few different must be tried before finding the one that works best.1 Cognitive-behavioral therapy is also a common treatment for agoraphobia.1 It focuses on learning more about the panic-triggers and how to manage them.1 Coping techniques are taught and practiced, and then unhealthy and undesirable behaviors are altered.1 The patient will often be asked to safely confront the situations or places that cause problems in a slow manner, using their coping techniques to get through it, optimally realizing there is no need to panic.1 After many confrontations, the level of anxiety declines.1

[1] Nordqvist, C. (2013, October 18). “What Is Agoraphobia? What Causes Agoraphobia?.” Medical News Today. Retrieved from

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