Agoraphobia (cont.)

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What is the definition of agoraphobia?

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

Phobias are largely underreported and underdiagnosed, probably because many phobia sufferers find ways to avoid the situations to which they are phobic. The fact that agoraphobia often occurs in combination with panic disorder makes it even more difficult to track how often it occurs. Other statistics about agoraphobia include that researchers estimate it occurs from less than 1% to almost 7% of the population. Its age of onset 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 individuals react to internal emotional conflicts (psychoanalytic theory) describes agoraphobia as the result of a feeling of emptiness that comes from an unresolved Oedipal conflict, which is a struggle 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 people, may have a clear genetic factor contributing to its development. 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.

What are agoraphobia symptoms?

The symptoms of agoraphobia include anxiety that one will have a panic attack when in a situation from which escape is not possible or is difficult or embarrassing. Examples of such situations include using public transportation, being in open or enclosed places, being in a crowd, or outside of the home alone. The panic attacks that can be associated with agoraphobia, like all panic attacks, may involve symptoms and signs like intense fear, disorientation, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, or diarrhea. Agoraphobic individuals often begin to avoid the situations that provoke these reactions. Interestingly, the situations that people with agoraphobia avoid and the environments that cause people with balance disorders to feel disoriented are quite similar. This leads some cases of agoraphobia to be considered as vestibular function (related to balance disorders) agoraphobia.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/21/2015

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