Agoraphobia is an intense fear and anxiety of being in places where it is hard to escape, or where help might not be available. Agoraphobia usually involves fear of crowds, bridges, or of being outside alone.
The exact cause of agoraphobia is unknown. Agoraphobia sometimes occurs when a person has had a panic attack and begins to fear situations that might lead to another panic attack.
With agoraphobia, you avoid places or situations because you do not feel safe in public places. The fear is worse when the place is crowded.
Symptoms of agoraphobia include:
Physical symptoms can include:
The health care provider will look at your history of agoraphobia and will get a description of the behavior from you, your family, or friends.
The goal of treatment is to help you feel and function better. The success of treatment usually depends in part on how severe the agoraphobia is. Treatment most often combines talk therapy with a medicine. Certain medicines usually used to treat depression may be helpful for this disorder. They work by preventing your symptoms or making them less severe. You must take these medicines every day. DO NOT stop taking them or change the dosage without talking with your provider.
Other medicines used to treat depression or medicines used to treat seizures may also be tried.
Medicines called sedatives or hypnotics may also be prescribed.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy. It involves 10 to 20 visits with a mental health professional over several weeks. CBT helps you change the thoughts that cause your condition. It may involve:
You may also be slowly exposed to the real-life situation that causes the fear to help you overcome it.
A healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, enough rest, and good nutrition can also be helpful.
You can ease the stress of having agoraphobia by joining a support group. Sharing with others who have common experiences and problems can help you not feel alone.
Support groups are usually not a good substitute for talk therapy or taking medicine, but can be a helpful addition.
Resources for more information include:
Anxiety and Depression Association of America -- adaa.org
Most people can get better with medicines and CBT. Without early and effective help, the disorder may become harder to treat.
Some people with agoraphobia may:
Call for an appointment with your provider if you have symptoms of agoraphobia.
Early treatment of panic disorder can often prevent agoraphobia.
Reviewed By: Fred K. Berger, MD, addiction and forensic psychiatrist, Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial Update 09-19-18.