Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder. About 30 to 50% of people with agoraphobia also have panic disorder. About 2% of women and 1% of men have agoraphobia during any 12-month period. Most people with agoraphobia develop it by the age of 35.
Common examples of situations or places that create fear and anxiety include standing in line at a bank or at a supermarket checkout, sitting in the middle of a long row in a theater or classroom, and using public transportation, such as a bus or an airplane. Some people develop agoraphobia after experiencing a panic attack in one of these situations. Other people simply feel uncomfortable in these settings and may never, or only later, have panic attacks there. Agoraphobia often interferes with daily living, sometimes so drastically that it makes people housebound.
Doctors diagnose agoraphobia when the fear, anxiety, or avoidance lasts 6 months or more and involves at least two of the following situations:
The fears must involve concerns that escape might be difficult or that help will be unavailable if people panic or become incapacitated.
In addition, all of the following must be present:
If agoraphobia is not treated, it usually waxes and wanes in severity and may even disappear without formal treatment, possibly because people have used their own form of exposure therapy, exposing themselves repeatedly to the situation that triggers their fears until the fears subside. Others no longer complain about agoraphobia symptoms because they have learned to avoid situations (such as airplanes or crowds) that trigger their anxiety. However, simply avoiding situations may significantly restrict people's life. Because treatments often increase anxiety at first, treatment of agoraphobia (and other anxiety disorders) often involves learning relaxation strategies.
Exposure therapy helps more than 90% of people who practice it faithfully.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy may also help. With this therapy, people learn to do the following:
People with agoraphobia may benefit from taking an SSRI. Although SSRIs are considered to be antidepressants, they may also work well for anxiety disorders.