Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder in which you feel extremely fearful of places and situations that are uncomfortable and dangerous according to you. These are the places that make you feel trapped and assume that the escape might be difficult in the case of a panic attack, such as an elevator, a public transportation, being in a crowd or other confined places.
According to The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 0.8 percent of American adults have agoraphobia and about 40% of cases are considered severe. In more advanced cases, agoraphobia can be very disabling. In most cases, people with agoraphobia realize that their fear is irrational, but they can’t do anything about it. As a result, the disorder starts interfering with their personal relationships and performance at school or work.
Symptoms of Agoraphobia
A person suffering from agoraphobia may experience the following symptoms:
• Afraid of being alone in any situation
• Afraid of being in crowded places
• Afraid of leaving their home for extended periods of time
• Afraid of losing control in a public place
• Afraid of being in places where escape would be difficult, such as a car or elevator
• Detached from others
• Anxious or agitated
In addition to that, you may also have signs and symptoms associated with panic attacks such as:
• Racing heart
• Chest pain
• Trouble breathing
• Sudden flushing or chills
• Upset stomach or diarrhea
• Tingling sensations or numbness
Causes of Agoraphobia
While the exact reason isn’t known, there are several factors that may increase the risk of developing agoraphobia. Some of them are:
• Another type of anxiety disorder, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
• Other phobias, such as social phobia and claustrophobia
• Substance abuse
• A family history of agoraphobia
• A history of physical or sexual abuse
Although Agoraphobia is rare and less than 1% of people in the U.S. have it, it is more common in women. In fact, women are 2-3X more likely to have this phobia than men, and it's more common in young adults and teenagers. It usually begins in early adulthood, but symptoms of the condition can surface at any age.
Treatment of Agoraphobia
Your doctor may use any of the following methods or a combination of all to treat agoraphobia:
1) Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy involves meeting with a therapist on a regular basis for a face to face counseling session. In this session, you can talk about your fears and problems that may be disturbing you.
2) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches you new ways to think about or face stressful situations by replacing the vague thoughts with healthy thoughts. The therapy will help you be less afraid and regain a sense of control in your life.
3) Exposure Therapy: This is another therapy that can help you overcome your fears. In this treatment, you’re gently and slowly exposed to the places or situations you fear. As a result, with the continued treatment, your fear diminishes over time.
4) Medications: Some of the medicines that your doctor might suggest to relieve your agoraphobia or panic attack symptoms are:
• Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac or Paxil
• Selective Serotonin And Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors such as Effexor or Cymbalta
• Tricyclic Antidepressants such as Elavil or nortriptyline Pamelor
• Anti-Anxiety Medications, such As Xanax or Klonopin
The Bottom Line
In addition to the above-mentioned treatment, lifestyle changes may also help a person reduce everyday anxiety. Exercise daily, eat a healthy diet and practice daily medication to fight the onset of panic attacks and improve your quality of life.