Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder that includes an intense and irrational fear of being unable to escape a stressful or embarrassing situation in the event of developing panic. The disorder is marked by anxiety that causes people to evade situations where they might feel panicked, trapped, helpless, or embarrassed. This fear often leads to persistent avoidance behaviors, in which the person begins to stay away from many places and situations in which they fear panic may occur. Due to these behaviors, the life of a person with agoraphobia can become very restrictive and isolating. This disorder can greatly affect a person’s private and professional life.
Symptoms of agoraphobia may include:
Being afraid of leaving home
Being afraid of open spaces, bridges, or shopping centers
Fear of enclosed spaces or buildings
Fear of leaving home or being in social situations alone
Fear of losing control in a public place
Fear of places where escape might be difficult
Fear of public transportation
These circumstances almost always trigger an anxiety response that is out of proportion to the actual danger presented by the situation.
Panic attacks often precede the onset of agoraphobia. When forced to endure a feared situation, a person may experience a panic attack that causes symptoms including:
Feelings of choking
Feelings of unreality
Shortness of breath
The exact causes of agoraphobia are not known, but there are a number of risk factors that may increase your risk of developing this condition. These include:
Having another anxiety disorder such as generalized anxiety disorder or social anxiety disorder
A family history of agoraphobia
A history of abuse or trauma
Learned associations can also present a role in the advancement of agoraphobia. Experiencing a panic attack in a certain situation or setting can lead to a fear that such a reaction will occur again in the future.
If a person does develop agoraphobia with panic disorder, symptoms typically begin to happen within the first year that the person starts having recurring and persistent panic attacks. Agoraphobia can get worse if left untreated.
For the best outcomes in managing agoraphobia and panic symptoms, it is crucial to seek treatment as soon as symptoms arise. Treatment options typically include a combination of both medication and psychotherapy.