Agoraphobia (cont.)

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What is agoraphobia?

A phobia is generally defined as the 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, 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 facts about agoraphobia include that researchers estimate it occurs in less than 1% to almost 7% of the population and that it is specifically thought to be grossly underdiagnosed.

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 caused by a number of factors, it also tends to run in families, and for some people, may have a clear genetic factor contributing to its development.

What are the symptoms of agoraphobia?

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 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 2/4/2014

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