Agoraphobia - Treatments

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What is the treatment for agoraphobia?

There are many treatments available for overcoming agoraphobia, including specific kinds of psychotherapy as well as several effective medications. A specific form of psychotherapy that focuses on decreasing negative, anxiety-provoking, or other self-defeating thoughts and behaviors (called cognitive behavioral therapy) has been found to be highly effective in treating agoraphobia. In fact, when agoraphobia occurs along with panic disorder, cognitive behavioral therapy, with or without treatment with medication, is considered to be the most effective way to both relieve symptoms and prevent their return. In fact, sometimes patients respond equally as well when treated with group cognitive behavioral therapy or a brief course of that kind of therapy, as they do when treated with traditional cognitive behavioral therapy. Psychotherapy for agoraphobia is also effective for many people when they receive it over the Internet, which is optimistic news for people who live in areas that are hundreds of miles from the nearest mental-health professional.

Another form of therapy that has been found effective in managing agoraphobia includes self-exposure. In that intervention, the person either imagines or puts him or herself into situations that cause increasing levels of agoraphobic anxiety, using relaxation techniques in each situation in order to master their anxiety. As people gain access to the Internet, there is increasing evidence that exposure therapy can also be done effectively through that medium.

Regarding medical therapy, agoraphobia is usually treated in connection with panic disorder. Commonly, members of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) and the minor tranquilizer (benzodiazepine) groups of medications are used in treatment. Examples of SSRI medications include escitalopram (Lexapro), citalopram (Celexa), fluvoxamine (Luvox), sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil), and fluoxetine (Prozac). The possible side effects of SSRI medications can vary greatly from person to person and depend on which of the drugs is being used. Common side effects of this group of medications include dry mouth, sexual dysfunction, nausea or other stomach upset, tremors, trouble sleeping, blurred vision, constipation or soft stools, and dizziness. In rare cases, some people have been thought to become acutely more anxious or depressed once on the medication, even trying to or completing suicide or homicide. Children and teens are thought to be particularly vulnerable to this rare possibility. Phobias are also sometimes treated using beta-blocker medications, which block the effects of adrenaline (like rapid heartbeat, stomach upset, shortness of breath) on the body. An example of a beta-blocker medication is propranolol.

Panic disorder and phobias are sometimes treated with drugs in a medication class known as benzodiazepines. This class of medications causes relaxation but is used less often these days to treat anxiety due to the possibility of addiction, increasing need for higher doses, and overdose. The risk of overdose is especially heightened if taken when alcohol is also being consumed. Examples of medications from that group include diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan), and clonazepam (Klonopin).

As anything that is ingested carries the risk of possible side effects, it is important to work closely with a doctor to decide whether medication is appropriate, and if so, which medication would be best. Further, the treating doctor will likely closely monitor for the possibility of side effects that can vary from the minor to the severe and in rare cases may even be life-threatening.

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See what others are saying

Comment from: Helper, 65-74 Female (Patient) Published: April 04

I was diagnosed with agoraphobia in 1978. I had no idea what was happening. One day was fine; the next day was full of panic. I felt as if I couldn't breathe. My heart was pounding. I couldn't leave the house. I had five children, a very ill mother I was caring for and a very demanding husband. The doctor said it was too much stress. I divorced the husband ... big help! My blood pressure went down, too. Thirty-three years later, I still fight to stay mobile. Sometimes it is very had to function. This is how I handle my life with agoraphobia: I am child of God and the stronger my faith, the better I do. I have to put loved ones before the panic attacks. The more I give this to God and ask for His help, the more I receive from the Lord. I do have fun and go on with my day. I pray anyone who has agoraphobia will really trust their faith and also take mediation. The medicine does help to dull the intense panic. Also, I just let go of lesser, unimportant things. I hope and pray that you have loved ones that understand. Most of mind do, some don't. I can't help that. I didn't choose to have this awful mess just like a cancer person doesn't choose to have cancer. Fill your mind with other things. Be with family and go to beautiful places. Be a little (I say little) selfish, but push yourself to work though the panic attack. You do have to make a decision and do it! You can do it!

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Comment from: Bunny, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: October 28

I had my first panic attack at age 14 and as I got older it got worse, so at age 35 it was diagnosed as agoraphobia and panic disorder. I have been under a psychiatrist care for 28 years. I take 3 types of medicines every day. I am much better but I do need medication every day. I still get panic attacks but I try to deal with them. I have a husband and 2 sons, both my sons have a predisposition towards my condition. My older son was on medication for at least 6 months and was able to be fine without it.

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