What is agoraphobia?

Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder. Individuals with agoraphobia feel extreme fear, which makes them avoid places or situations that make them feel embarrassed, helpless, or threatened.

Anxiety disorders are psychological conditions that cause excessive worrying and feelings of nervousness, fear, and apprehension. These are normal emotions, but in people with anxiety disorders they are so overwhelming that they interfere with daily life.

People with agoraphobia are afraid of common daily activities like being in an open space outside, riding public transportation, crossing a bridge or being in crowds like at a shopping mall or concert. People with severe agoraphobia are afraid to go out of their homes.

How common is agoraphobia?

Slightly less than 2% of the adult population in the United States has been diagnosed with agoraphobia.

Who gets agoraphobia?

In general, women are more likely to have any anxiety disorder, and twice as many women as men have agoraphobia. Most people who have agoraphobia develop it before the age of 35.

Research has shown that some specific events also increase a person’s risk for developing agoraphobia. These include experiencing the death of a loved one, being attacked, and being abused. People who tend to be nervous or anxious and those with a relative with agoraphobia also have a higher risk of developing it.

What causes agoraphobia?

Researchers are still working to identify the biologic cause of agoraphobia, but they now know that it often is associated with panic disorder. Panic disorder is another type of anxiety disorder. People with panic disorder experience short, intense attacks of extreme fear for no specific reason. During a panic attack, the heart rate speeds up, the person may sweat, feel nauseous, and the need to flee or escape. An estimated 1/3 of people who have panic disorder develop agoraphobia. Agoraphobia also can occur on its own.

What are the symptoms of agoraphobia?

People who have agoraphobia feel anxious and stressed when they think about or are in places or situations where help may not be readily available, getting out may be difficult or embarrassing or feel a threat to their personal safety. The person with agoraphobia avoids situations that trigger these feelings.

Physical symptoms associated with agoraphobia may include symptoms of a panic attack, such as:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Excessive sweating
  • Trouble breathing
  • Feeling shaky, numb, or tingling
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Sudden flushing or chills
  • Upset stomach or diarrhea
  • Feeling a loss of control
  • Fear of dying