• 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.

Quick GuideWhat's Your Biggest Fear? Phobias

What's Your Biggest Fear? Phobias

What is the definition of agoraphobia?

A phobia is usually defined as the severe, unrelenting fear of a situation, activity, or thing that makes one to want to avoid it. The definition of agoraphobia is the severe anxiety about being outside or otherwise being in a situation from which one either cannot escape or from which escaping would be difficult or embarrassing.

Phobias are often underreported and underdiagnosed, likely because many phobia sufferers find ways to avoid the situations to which they are phobic. The fact that agoraphobia often co-occurs with panic disorder makes it even more difficult to determine how often it occurs. Other statistics about agoraphobia include that researchers estimate it occurs from less than 1% to nearly 7% of the population. The age of onset for this condition is most often during the mid to late 20s.

What causes agoraphobia?

There are a number of theories about what can cause agoraphobia. One hypothesis is that agoraphobia develops in response to repeated exposure to anxiety-provoking events. Mental-health theory that focuses on how people react to internal emotional conflicts (psychoanalytic theory) describes agoraphobia as being the result of a feeling of emptiness that comes from an unresolved Oedipal conflict, which is a tension between the feelings the person has toward the opposite-sex parent and a sense of competition with the same-sex parent. Although agoraphobia, like other mental disorders, is related to a number of psychological and environmental risk factors, it also tends to run in families, and for some individuals, may have a clear contributing genetic component. Girls and women are more likely to develop agoraphobia compared to boys and men. For ethnic minorities in the United States, a number of factors influence the likelihood of developing agoraphobia or any other anxiety disorder, like immigration from another country, language proficiency, feeling discriminated against, as well as the specific ethnicity of the individual.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/4/2016

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