• Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Agoraphobia is defined as the fear of going outside.

Types of Phobias

In the United States, about 6 million people suffer from phobias. There are a variety of types of phobias, including acrophobia (a fear of heights), claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces), agoraphobia (fear of being in open spaces), and aerophobia (fear of flying), among others. Phobias can interfere with a person's ability to function from day to day if left untreated.

Quick GuideWhat's Your Biggest Fear? Phobias

What's Your Biggest Fear? Phobias

Agoraphobia facts

  • Agoraphobia is a fear of being outdoors or otherwise being in a situation from which one either cannot escape or from which escaping would be difficult or embarrassing.
  • Like other phobias, agoraphobia often goes unreported, probably because many phobia sufferers find ways to avoid the situations to which they are phobic.
  • Agoraphobia often co-occurs with panic disorder.
  • Agoraphobia occurs alone in less than 1% to nearly 7% of the population, more often in girls and women compared to boys and men.
  • There are a number of theories about what can cause agoraphobia, including a response to repeated exposure to anxiety-provoking events or a reaction to internal emotional conflicts.
  • As with other mental disorders, a number of factors usually contribute to the development of agoraphobia, it tends to run in families, and for some people, there may be a clear genetic factor involved in its development.
  • Symptoms of agoraphobia include anxiety and resulting avoidance of being in a situation in which one will have a panic attack, when in a situation from which escape is not possible, or is difficult or humiliating.
  • The panic attacks associated with agoraphobia, like all panic attacks, may involve intense fear, disorientation, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, or diarrhea.
  • The situations that people with agoraphobia avoid and those cause people with balance disorders to feel disoriented are sometimes quite similar, leading some cases of agoraphobia to be considered vestibular function agoraphobia.
  • Agoraphobia tends to begin by adolescence or early adulthood.
  • Suffering from any other anxiety disorder increases the risk of developing agoraphobia.
  • Symptoms of agoraphobia should be treated when the signs and symptoms of the associated anxiety are not easily, quickly, and clearly relieved.
  • Physicians often diagnose and treat agoraphobia when patients seek treatment for other medical or emotional problems rather than as the primary reason that care is sought.
  • To assess for agoraphobia, the treating psychiatrist or other physician will usually take a careful history, perform or refer to another doctor for a physical examination, and order laboratory tests. The presence of any medical condition or other emotional problem will be explored.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy are the most effective psychotherapies that treat agoraphobia.
  • Medications like SSRIs, beta-blockers, and benzodiazepines most commonly treat agoraphobia. The risk of overdose, addiction, or need for increasingly higher doses (tolerance) make benzodiazepines a less desirable treatment for agoraphobia.
  • Agoraphobia increases the likelihood that the person also suffers from another anxiety disorder and that both conditions will be more severe and difficult to treat.
  • Agoraphobia tends to occur more often in individuals who have a number of different physical conditions.
  • If left untreated, agoraphobia may worsen to the point where the person's life is seriously impacted by the disease itself and/or by attempts to avoid or hide it.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/4/2016

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