Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder that causes fear of certain situations. It sometimes accompanies panic disorder but is a separate diagnosis. Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder that causes intense anxiety in certain situations that make it difficult to escape or access help if panic or other upsetting symptoms develop.In some but not all cases, agoraphobia coincides with panic attacks as
Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder that causes intense anxiety in certain situations that make it difficult to escape or access help if panic or other upsetting symptoms develop.
In some but not all cases, agoraphobia coincides with panic attacks as people learn to avoid certain situations that could trigger future attacks. As a result, their list of safe places shrinks over time.
The word agoraphobia is derived from the Greek for "fear of the marketplace."
If you or someone you care about may be living with agoraphobia, the sooner you get help the better. With treatment, you can begin to cope with your condition and take back control of your life.
Left untreated, agoraphobia can often become worse over time. This condition is characterized by intense fear in situations such as the following:
An estimated 1.3% of U.S. adults experience agoraphobia at some point in their lives, and 40% of cases cause serious impairment, per the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
What makes these situations so scary is that they’re difficult to get out of or seek help in if you begin to experience upsetting or embarrassing symptoms. You might know the anxiety or panic you’re feeling is irrational, but you can’t help but feel overwhelmed by it.
In light of this, agoraphobia can lead to additional symptoms including:
For people who experience agoraphobia associated with panic disorder, symptoms of panic attacks include:
Life with agoraphobia sometimes means living with a constant fear of where or when your next panic attack could be. In order to deal with this, some people develop fixed routes or may even struggle to leave home.
The exact causes of agoraphobia are unknown. Like other anxiety disorders, agoraphobia is likely caused by a complex combination of factors including your genetics and environmental stressors.
Risk factors for developing agoraphobia include:
While adolescents and adults of all ages can be affected by agoraphobia, the average age of onset is between 21 and 35 years old.
In order to diagnose you with agoraphobia, a mental health professional will ask you a series of questions or provide a screening test on your symptoms, what situations cause them, and how severe they are. If you’re unable to visit a medical center in person, ask about scheduling an appointment over the phone or via video.
An official diagnosis of agoraphobia must meet the criteria specified by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition" (DSM-5). In the past, agoraphobia was classified as a feature of panic disorder, but it is now considered a separate anxiety disorder.
Here are the diagnostic criteria for agoraphobia, per the DSM-5:
If you or a loved one are struggling with agoraphobia, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.
For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.
Agoraphobia can be treated with a combination of therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes.
With the help of a therapist, you can learn how to deal with anxiety, face your fears, and gradually return to the situations you’ve been avoiding.
Along with therapy, medications for anxiety disorders may help ease symptoms of agoraphobia. These include:
Because starting or stopping some of these drugs can cause side effects that sometimes include symptoms of panic attacks, be sure to ask about how you can safely adjust your dose as necessary.
It’s also important to note that benzodiazepines can be habit-forming and abusable. They may not be appropriate if you have a history of issues with alcohol or drugs, or for long-term use.
In order to cope with agoraphobia, you'll need to continue practicing the skills that allow you to manage your anxiety and expand the situations you feel comfortable in. These lifestyle changes can help you stay on track:
If you or someone you love is struggling with agoraphobia, the nature of this condition can make it very difficult to reach out for help, but you can get your life back with the help of a mental health professional. While the healing process may be uncomfortable, challenging, and scary at first, with each step forward, the next one becomes a little easier.