Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder. It is an irrational fear of being trapped in places or situations where escape is difficult. People with agoraphobia may not be able to leave the house.
The exact cause of anxiety disorders is not known. Factors that may contribute to the development of agoraphobia include:
Agoraphobia often develops in people with panic disorders. These disorders are associated with frequent and severe panic attacks. Agoraphobia may develop when people begin to avoid certain places or situations to prevent these panic attacks.
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Factors that may increase your chance of agoraphobia include:
Feared situations may trigger a panic attack. Attacks start quickly and peak in about 10 minutes. A panic attack usually includes four or more of the following:
Agoraphobia is also commonly associated with the following conditions:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Agoraphobia will be diagnosed by the type and duration of symptoms.
You may be asked questions about your:
There are no tests for agoraphobia or panic disorder. Your doctor may order heart or blood tests done to look for an underlying cause.
Treatment aims to help you overcome irrational fears and live more independently. Goals include:
Treatment of agoraphobia is similar to the treatment of panic disorder. Treatments may include:
Cognitive therapy can help to change troublesome thought patterns. Behavioral therapy will help you learn how you can alter your actions. The combination therapy will help you:
Exposure therapy exposes you to the factor causing the fear while in a safe environment. The sessions often include repeated, detailed imagining of the traumatic experience. The therapy will help people face their fear and gain control of it while it is happening. Exposure therapy methods range anywhere from a gradual approach to the fear to complete confrontation all at once.
Exposure therapy may be done alone or in combination with other treatments.
Your doctor may prescribe medication as well as therapy. Medication options may include:
It is important to take all medications as instructed by the doctor.
Agoraphobia often develops as a response to panic attacks. If you have had a panic attack, instead of avoiding the place or situation, seek medical care. Early treatment for panic attacks can help prevent agoraphobia.
American Psychiatric Association
Anxiety Disorders Association of America
Mental Health America
Canadian Mental Health Association
Mental Health Canada
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Last reviewed June 2013 by Brian Randall, MD
Last Updated: 6/24/2013