Agoraphobia - Symptoms and Treatments

Symptoms and Treatments

Man suffering from agoraphobia
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Agoraphobia is defined as a fear of open spaces, but this description can be misleading. Agoraphobics are afraid of the anxiety response that occurs in certain situations, such as at work, school, or in other places outside of the home. People suffering from this psychological disorder experience an intense fear of being trapped and unable to escape from particular situations. In order to avoid experiencing these feelings of panic, individuals with agoraphobia may avoid these situations and may become entirely housebound in some cases.

People often think of agoraphobia as being afraid of leaving one's house, but it can also involve fear of being home alone, traveling, small rooms, elevators, cars, buses, airplanes, bridges, and being in a crowded store or busy mall.

Those with agoraphobia avoid such situations and exhibit behavioral changes that aid in this avoidance. If going over bridges serves to trigger the anxiety, the individual might plan their routes to work and other functions in order to avoid roads with bridges, even if it means traveling far out of their way. Anxiety triggered by crowded shopping centers might lead a person to stop going out with friends. In some cases, these avoidance behaviors may lead the individual to remain at home and essentially become housebound in order to prevent becoming trapped in triggering situations.

A more accurate definition of agoraphobia would be that it is both a phobia and an anxiety disorder characterized by avoidance of the situations that trigger the anxiety response.

An estimated one-third of individuals who suffer from panic disorder will also develop agorophobia. While panic disorder and agoraphobia have similar symptoms including fear, anxiety, and panic attacks, the DSM classifies them as separate disorders. Experts suggest that panic disorder often precedes the onset of agoraphobia.

Learn more about the symptoms and treatments of agoraphobia.

Symptoms of Agoraphobia

Individuals with agoraphobia:

  • Often experience depressed mood and exhibit anxious or fearful behaviors.
  • Experience anxiety about places or situations where escape may be difficult and may suffer panic-attacks.
  • Common problem situations include being outside of the home, traveling in a car, being on a bridge, or being in crowds.
  • Before diagnosis clinicians need to rule out other disorders such as specific phobias, social phobias, and post traumatic stress disorder.

Treatments for Agoraphobia

  • Psychiatric drugs such as SSRI’s and benzodiazepines can be effect when treating agoraphobics who also experience panic attacks. Treatments tend to be more effective when combined with behavioral therapy.
  • Systematic desensitization can also be effective. This approach involves gradual exposure to real-life feared situations.

The symptoms of agoraphobia can be intense, frightening, and disturbing. Because of this, the disorder can rapidly progress from simple avoidance behaviors to severely impairing an individual's life and ability to function.

Fortunately, treatment can lead to good results. Psychotherapy strategies, certain medications, coping skills, and relaxation techniques can help those suffering from this disorder successfully manage their symptoms.

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