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Agoraphobia is a fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult or that help wouldn't be available if things go wrong.
Many people assume agoraphobia is simply a fear of open spaces, but it's actually a more complex condition. Someone with agoraphobia may be scared of:
If someone with agoraphobia finds themselves in a stressful situation, they'll usually experience the symptoms of a panic attack, such as:
They'll avoid situations that cause anxiety and may only leave the house with a friend or partner. They'll order groceries online rather than going to the supermarket. This change in behaviour is known as avoidance.
What causes agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia usually develops as a complication of panic disorder, an anxiety disorder involving panic attacks and moments of intense fear. It can arise by associating panic attacks with the places or situations where they occurred and then avoiding them.
A minority of people with agoraphobia have no history of panic attacks. In these cases, their fear may be related to issues like a fear of crime, terrorism, illness, or being in an accident.
Traumatic events, such as bereavement, may contribute towards agoraphobia, as well as certain genes inherited from your parents.
Speak to your chosen therapist if you think you may be affected by agoraphobia. It should be possible to arrange a telephone consultation if you don't feel ready to visit your therapist in person.
Your therapist will ask you to describe your symptoms, how often they occur, and in what situations. It's very important you tell them how you've been feeling and how your symptoms are affecting you.
He/she may ask you the following questions:
It can sometimes be difficult to talk about your feelings, emotions, and personal life, but try not to feel anxious or embarrassed. Your therapist needs to know as much as possible about your symptoms to make the correct diagnosis and recommend the most appropriate treatment.
With psychological treatment (talking therapies), most people with agoraphobia will make significant improvements, particularly if the more intensive treatments, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is used.
In severe cases of agoraphobia, medication can be used in combination with other types of treatment, such as CBT and relaxation therapy.
How common is agoraphobia?
In the UK, up to 2 people in 100 have panic disorder. It's thought around a third will go on to develop agoraphobia.
Agoraphobia is twice as common in women as men. It usually starts between the ages of 18 and 35.