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:
Changes in brain chemistry or activity
Having a nervous system that reacts excessively, even to normal stimuli
Increased awareness of physical changes, such as increased heart rate
Distorted thinking, which may start a cycle of fear
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.
Changes or genetic problems in the brain and nerves may contribute to agoraphobia.
Use relaxation techniques to decrease feelings of anxiety
Control breathing by taking slower, deeper breaths
Cope with physical changes associated with anxiety
Confront feared situations
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:
Antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
Benzodiazepines—may cause dependence
Other anti-anxiety medications
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.
Phobias. Mental Health America website. Available at: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/phobias. Accessed January 31, 2018.
What are anxiety disorders? American Psychiatric Association website. Available at: https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/anxiety-disorders/what-are-anxiety-disorders. Updated January 2017. Accessed January 31, 2018.
What is posttraumatic stress disorder? American Psychiatric Association website. Available at: https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd. Updated January 2017. Accessed January 31, 2018.
Last reviewed November 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Adrian Preda, MD
Last Updated: 1/31/2018
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