Recognizing the Symptoms of Agoraphobia

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Agoraphobia is often misunderstood as a phobia of leaving home. However, this is not quite accurate. Agoraphobia is a phobia of being in a situation where escape would be difficult or impossible, or help would be unavailable if a panic attack should occur.

What is a Phobia?

A phobia is an overwhelming and unreasonable fear of an object or situation that poses little real danger but provokes anxiety and avoidance.

Unlike the brief anxiety most people feel when they give a speech or take a test, a phobia is long-lasting, causes intense physical and psychological reactions, and can affect your ability to function normally at work or in social settings.

Not all phobias need treatment. But if a phobia affects your daily life, several therapies are available that can help you overcome your fears — often permanently.

Phobias are divided into three main categories:

  • Specific phobias. A specific phobia involves an irrational, persistent fear of a specific object or situation that's out of proportion to the actual risk. This includes a fear of situations (such as airplanes or enclosed spaces); nature (such as thunderstorms or heights); animals or insects (such as dogs or spiders); blood, injection or injury (such as knives or medical procedures); or other phobias (such as loud noises or clowns). There are many other types of specific phobias. It's not unusual to experience phobias about more than one object or situation.
  • Social phobia. More than just shyness, social phobia involves a combination of excessive self-consciousness and a fear of public scrutiny or humiliation in common social situations. In social situations, the person fears being rejected or negatively evaluated or fears offending others.
  • Fear of open spaces (agoraphobia). This is a fear of an actual or anticipated situation, such as using public transportation, being in open or enclosed spaces, standing in line or being in a crowd, or being outside the home alone. The anxiety is caused by fearing no easy means of escape or help if intense anxiety develops. Most people who have agoraphobia develop it after having one or more panic attacks, causing them to fear another attack and avoid the place where it occurred. For some people, agoraphobia may be so severe that they're unable to leave home.


    Agoraphobia is often a progressive phobia, and may eventually lead to a fear of leaving the house. However, it is the panic attack, rather than the act of being in public, that is the cause of the fear. Symptoms of agoraphobia may include:

    • Panicked Feelings: Agoraphobia can become a self-replicating cycle. The sufferer is anxious about having a panic attack which can, in turn, lead to a panic attack.
    • Avoidant Behavior: Limiting life activities in an effort to avoid situations where help for a panic attack may not be available.
    • Clustering: A pattern of avoided situations is generally present. Common clusters include public transportation; shopping; driving; and leaving home.

    Agoraphobia often develops out of an untreated panic disorder. However, agoraphobia sometimes develops with no prior history of panic disorder. A mental health professional can determine whether your symptoms are those of agoraphobia or another disorder.


    American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

    Mayo Clinic. Phobias.

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