What is Agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia is an excessive, overwhelming fear of certain places and situations. Many people with this condition feel powerless, cornered, trapped, or humiliated in public spaces. Even the anticipation of stressful situations—such as riding in an evaluator or being in a crowd—might trigger a panic attack.
In severe cases of agoraphobia, individuals might sequester inside their homes. For some, they may feel unable to go outside.
Agoraphobia symptoms include the effects of the condition itself, along with the effects of possible panic attacks in public spaces or situations.
Common agoraphobia symptoms:
- Fear of public or open spaces.
- Fear of enclosed or crowded spaces.
- Fear of being away from home.
- Fear of public transportation such as buses, trains, and planes.
- Fear of being alone in public or social settings.
- Fear of loss of control.
- Fear of being cornered or trapped.
Panic attack symptoms:
- Fast heartbeat
- Choking sensations
- Short, shallow breathing
- Numbing sensations
- Chest pain
Panic attack suffers might also question if what is happening is real, sometimes referred to as depersonalization or feelings of unreality.
There is no known agoraphobia cause or related dependent personality disorder causes.
Agoraphobia is often preceded by anxiety or panic disorders. Approximately one third of diagnosed panic disorders eventually progress to agoraphobia.
Specific risk factors increase the probability that someone will develop agoraphobia.
Agoraphobia risk factors include:
- Family member with agoraphobia.
- Regularly experiencing anxiety.
- Extreme fear response to panic attacks.
- Stressful or traumatic life events.
- Experience with preexisting phobias.
- History of panic attacks.
There is no agoraphobia test that will definitely diagnose the condition. Your doctor will likely begin a diagnoses process by asking about your symptoms, lifestyle, and family history.
Your doctor may ask you the following types of questions:
- Do you feel anxious, nervous, or fearful of leaving your house?
- Do you avoid any social settings or places because of fear or stress?
- Do you ever experience panic attacks when in crowded spaces?
- Does fear of certain social settings or places interfere with your daily life?
- Does fear of certain social settings or places interfere with your sense of personal peace or happiness?
If a routine physical exam eliminates any medical cause of your symptoms, your doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist or therapist. A psychiatrist or therapist will typically make a diagnosis based on the most current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). The DSM is a set of diagnostic standards published by the American Psychiatric Association.
Based on the DSM, an individual might suffer from agoraphobia if he or she feels panic or fear in two or more of the following scenarios:
- In a line or other crowded area.
- On public transportation, including buses, trains, and planes.
- Outside of your house, especially by yourself.
- In open spaces.
- In enclosed spaces.
Treatment & Recovery
Agoraphobia treatment is divided into three categories: therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes.
Agoraphobia is treated with psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and exposure therapy.
Therapeutic treatments for agoraphobia:
- Psychotherapy—Sometimes called “talk therapy,” this form of therapy involves discussing your thoughts and feelings with a trained therapist.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy—A combination therapy where a therapist helps you excavate unhealthy, unrealistic, or problematic thought patterns and replace them with healthier, more accurate, and empowering thought patterns.
- Exposure Therapy—Paced, progressive exposure to the source of your fear.
Certain types of medication can help reduce the symptoms of agoraphobia.
Common medications include:
- Tricyclic antidepressants
- Serotonin reuptake inhibitors
- Anti-Anxiety medication
- Norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors
Lifestyle habits can also impact daily stress and anxiety.
Lifestyle habits might consist of:
- Regular exercise
- Healthy diet and nutrition
- Daily medication
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