Agoraphobia is a condition that is characterized by the fear of open spaces or being in any environment where escaping is difficult. People with agoraphobia have an intense fear of being in open places such as in a crowd or on public transportation. It is considered an anxiety disorder and people develop it as a result of having a panic disorder. The condition can sometimes be so severe that it interferes with people’s daily lives because in some cases, agoraphobia causes people to never leave their house. It is estimated that about one percent of people in the United States suffer from agoraphobia.
The most common signs and symptoms of agoraphobia usually include a fear of being alone in any situation, a fear of being in crowded places, a fear of losing control in a public place, a fear of being in places where it can be difficult to get away easily (i.e. train, bus, plane), being unable to leave your home or only being able to leave it if someone else leaves with you, a sense of helplessness, and being too dependent on other people. People with agoraphobia may also experience signs and symptoms of a panic attack. These may include a rapid heart rate, excessive sweating, trouble breathing, feeling shaky, numb or tingling, chest pain or pressure, lightheadedness or dizziness, sudden flushing or chills, upset stomach or diarrhea, feeling a loss of control, or a fear of dying.
Agoraphobia may come with certain complications. It may cause you to never want to leave your home. If left untreated, people may be stuck in their home for long periods of time. The condition may also cause depression, other mental health problems, or alcohol and drug abuse as a way to cope.
There are a number of risk factors that may increase your risk of developing agoraphobia. The two main risk factors that may increase your risk of developing agoraphobia include being younger than 35 years old (the condition usually occurs before age 35, however, people older than 35 can develop it too), and being a female (women are diagnosed with agoraphobia more often than men are). Other risk factors that may increase your risk of developing agoraphobia include having a panic disorder, having other phobias, having a tendency to be nervous or anxious, having gone through stressful or traumatic life events (such as abuse, the death of a parent or being attacked), or having a blood relative with agoraphobia.
Treatment for agoraphobia may include medications such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications, beta blockers, or therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy.