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What is agoraphobia?

Agoraphobia is the fear of being in a situation where one might experience anxiety or panic and where escape from the situation might be difficult or embarrassing. People with agoraphobia may feel anxious about such things as loss of bladder or bowel control or choking on food in the presence of others. They also might feel anxious about being home alone, leaving home, or being in a crowded place, such as on public transportation or in an elevator, where it might be difficult or embarrassing to find a way out. To avoid the anxiety associated with these situations they refrain from putting themselves into such situations. The severity of agoraphobia is quite variable. Some people with agoraphobia live essentially normal lives as they avoid potentially anxiety-provoking situations. However, in severe cases of agoraphobia, people are homebound. These people work very hard to avoid any and all situations that might cause them to become anxious.

What characteristics are associated with agoraphobia?

Two major characteristics are associated with agoraphobia:

  • People develop anxiety when thinking about being in a situation out of their comfort zone. They fear feeling trapped in a situation where they judge it would be difficult or embarrassing for them to leave the situation.
  • People avoid those situations which bring them anxiety or panic. It is the fear of the anxiety that leads to the agoraphobia. Does agoraphobia affect males, females or both?

About twice as many women than men report that they experience agoraphobia. Frequently, people report that the onset of their agoraphobia followed a stressful or traumatic event in their lives.

At what age does agoraphobia begin?

The most common age for agoraphobia to begin is when a person is in his/her mid to late 20's.

How often is agoraphobia seen in our society?

Less than one percent (1%) of the population of the United States is thought to have agoraphobia.
How is agoraphobia diagnosed?

People suffering from agoraphobia sometimes fear that they are "losing" their mind or "going crazy" because of their fears and anxiety. Consequently, they might seek advice from a mental health professional.

Also, it is common for a friend or family member to notice that another person is reluctant to leave home without a companion. For instance, a spouse might notice that his/her mate finds reasons not to leave home. In these cases, the friend or family member often urges the agoraphobic to seek professional help.

A mental health professional arrives at the diagnosis of agoraphobia by taking a careful personal history from the client/patient. There are no laboratory tests required to confirm a diagnosis of agoraphobia nor are there any physical conditions that must be met. However, it is very important for the therapist not to overlook a physical illness that might mimic or contribute to a psychological disorder. If there is any doubt about a medical problem, the mental health professional should refer to a physician who will perform a complete physical examination and request any necessary laboratory tests.

How is agoraphobia treated?

There are three main types of treatment for agoraphobia:

  • Therapy
  • Medications
  • Combination of therapy and medications Behavior and cognitive therapy are the treatments of choice for agoraphobia. If panic accompanies the agoraphobia, people are sometimes referred for a brief course of a prescribed medication, such as an antianxiety medication.

What happens to someone with agoraphobia?

Severe cases of agoraphobia can be very difficult to treat and can last many years.

What can people do if they need help?

If you, a friend, or a family member would like more information and you have a therapist or a physician, please discuss your concerns with that person.

Page last modified or reviewed by athealth on January 29, 2014