Agoraphobia

  • 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

When should one seek medical care for agoraphobia?

Call a doctor when the signs and symptoms of anxiety are not easily, quickly, and clearly relieved.

  • If the symptoms are so severe that medication may be needed
  • If the symptoms are interfering with someone's personal, social, or professional life
  • If one has chest pain, shortness of breath, headaches, palpitations, dizziness, fainting spells, or unexplained weakness
  • If one is experiencing depression or feeling suicidal or homicidal

When the signs and symptoms suggest that anxiety may have been present for a prolonged period (more than a few days) and appear to be stable (not getting significantly worse), it's advisable to make an appointment with a doctor for evaluation. But when the signs and symptoms are severe and come on suddenly, they may indicate serious medical illness that needs immediate evaluation and treatment in a hospital's emergency department.

What tests do physicians use to diagnose agoraphobia?

Interestingly, physicians often diagnose and treat agoraphobia, like other phobias, when patients seek treatment for other medical or emotional problems rather than as the primary reason that care is sought. As with other mental disorders, there is no single, specific test for agoraphobia. The primary-care doctor or psychiatrist will take a careful history, perform or refer to another doctor for a physical examination, and order laboratory tests as needed. If someone has another medical condition that he or she knows about or there has been exposure to a medication, drug of abuse or other substance, there may be an overlap of signs and symptoms between the old and the new conditions. Just determining that anxiety does not have a physical cause does not immediately identify the ultimate cause. Often, determining the cause requires the involvement of a psychiatrist, clinical psychologist, and/or other mental-health professional.

In order to establish the diagnosis of agoraphobia, the professional will likely ask questions to ensure that the anxiety of the sufferer is truly the result of a fear of being in situations that make it impossible, difficult, or embarrassing to escape rather than in the context of another emotional problem (for example, fear of being near people that remind one of an abuser in the case of posttraumatic stress disorder or the fear of hearing voices that have no basis in reality as occurs in schizophrenia). The evaluator will also seek to determine if the symptoms of agoraphobia have occurred most times that the sufferer has been exposed to the previously described anxiety-provoking situations over at least a six-month period.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/4/2016

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