Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder in which individuals avoid situations that they’re afraid might cause them to become anxious or panicky. Panic disorder often occurs right along with agoraphobia. People might avoid being alone, leaving their homes, or any situation where they could feel trapped, embarrassed or helpless if they do panic.
People with agoraphobia often have hard times feeling safe in any public places, especially where crowds gather. Their fears can be so overwhelming that they may be essentially trapped in their own homes. Agoraphobia is more common in women than men and can occur in anyone.
Symptoms of Agoraphobia
Common Symptoms of Agoraphobia Include:
- Depending on others
- Having an unusual temper or agitation
- Staying in the house for long periods of time
- Being afraid of spending time alone
- Being afraid of places where escaping might be difficult
- Being afraid of losing control in a public place
- Feeling detached or separated from others
- Feeling helpless
- Feeling that the body is not real
- Feeling that the environment is not real
One of the most common symptoms of Agoraphobia is a panic attack. Panic attacks involve short periods of intense anxiety symptoms, which peak within 10 minutes.
Panic attack symptoms can include:
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Numbness or tingling
- Racing heart
- Dizziness or faintness
- Fear of being out of control
- Fear of “going crazy”
- Fear of dying
- Hot flashes or chills
- Nausea or other stomach distress
- Shortness of breath
Signs and testing for Agoraphobia
People who first experience agoraphobia and panic disorder often fear they have serious illnesses, or are even dying. Most of the time, people will visit emergency rooms because they believe they are experiencing heart attacks.
A physical examination and psychological evaluation can help diagnose agoraphobia and panic disorder. It is important to rule out any medical disorders, such as problems involving the heart, breathing, nervous system, hormones, and substance abuse. Depending on the symptoms, different tests are done to rule out these conditions.
Treatment for Agoraphobia
The goal of treatment is to help the person with agoraphobia to feel well and live a better and more functional life. Treatment is generally determined by how severe the agoraphobia is and, in most cases, involves both cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and an antidepressant medication.
Some medications used to treat agoraphobia and panic disorder include:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are usually the first choice of antidepressant
- Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are another choice. Other antidepressants and some anti-seizure drugs may be used for more severe cases
- Other anti-anxiety medications may also be prescribed. For example, your health care provider may recommend benzodiazepines when antidepressants don’t help or before they take effect
CBT is very helpful in changing the thoughts that cause agoraphobia. About 10 to 20 visits with a mental health specialist over the course of several weeks are needed to see hopeful results.
Some of the ways CBT can help include:
- Gaining understanding and control of distorted feelings or views of stressful events or situations
- Learning to recognize and replace panic-causing thoughts
- Learning stress management and relaxation techniques
- Relaxing, then imagining the things that cause the anxiety, working from the least fearful to the most fearful (called systematic desensitization and exposure therapy)
It can be frightening for someone to experience panic and possibly develop agoraphobia. It is important for them to get help for it sooner than later, to improve their lives greatly.
- “Panic disorder with agoraphobia.” PubMed Health. A.D.A.M., Inc., 25 March 2012. Web. 26 Feb. 2013.