What is Agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia describes fear of places or situations from which escape might be difficult or help might not be available in the event that a panic attack or panic-like symptoms might occur. Anxiety about these symptoms leads to avoidance of situations outside of the home or even being home alone. Those with agoraphobia may be unable to enter (a) crowded places such as shopping malls, churches, restaurants, movie theaters; (b) small or confined places such as elevators, bridges, small rooms, (c) open spaces such as open fields, large parking lots, or (d) traveling by bus, car, or airplane. When the disorder becomes severe, some individuals are unable to leave their house. When agoraphobia results from fear of panic attacks, the person is said to suffer from Agoraphobia with Panic Disorder. There are some who avoid these situations but have never had a panic attack – this is known as Agoraphobia without History of Panic Disorder, although many of these patients report some symptoms that could be judged to be sub-syndromal or less severe.
How common is Agoraphobia?
Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia affects between 1.5% to 3.5% of the general population, and is more likely to affect adults than children and adolescents. The number of people suffering from Agoraphobia without History of Panic Disorder is unknown as many of these individuals do not seek treatment.
What causes Agoraphobia?
In cases where Agoraphobia follows the occurrence of panic attacks, the panic is seen as a precipitating cause. In the case of Agoraphobia without History of Panic Disorder, the cause is unknown. However, fears of situations that are common among those with agoraphobia often seem to fun in families, therefore, social learning may be a cause of certain factor in certain cases of this disorder.
How is Agoraphobia treated?
In cases where panic attacks precipitate the onset of agoraphobia, treatment of panic is necessary in order to eliminate avoidance of the agoraphobic situations. This can be accomplished through the use of medication and/or behavior therapy. Exposure therapy is the treatment of choice for agoraphobia (with or without panic attacks) and can be accomplished in several different ways, depending upon the particular fear and the extent of the person’s avoidance.