Bathmophobia (Fear of Stairs)

Overview

What is bathmophobia?

People who have bathmophobia have an extreme fear of stairs or slopes, such as a steep hill. “Bathmo” is the Greek word for steps, while “phobos” means fear.

What do people with bathmophobia fear?

A person with a fear of stairs or slopes may be afraid of:

  • Suffering a serious injury or death from falling down a set of stairs or a steep incline.
  • Tripping, falling and being injured while going up a set of stairs or an incline.
  • Slipping through an opening between stair steps.
  • Having a heart attack, asthma attack or becoming short of breath while climbing stairs or an incline.
  • Navigating narrow, steep, slippery or rickety stairs.

What is a phobia?

A phobia is an anxiety disorder that brings on an extreme fear of something that won’t typically cause harm. Bathmophobia is a type of specific phobic disorder. A person with this phobia fears a specific situation: stairs or slopes.

How common is bathmophobia?

It’s hard knowing exactly how many people have a specific phobia, like bathmophobia. Many people may keep this fear to themselves or may not recognize they have it. We do know that about 1 in 10 American adults and 1 in 5 teenagers will deal with a specific phobia disorder at some point in their lives, though.

What is the difference between bathmophobia and climacophobia?

Someone with bathmophobia may feel anxious or fearful at the mere sight of stairs or a steep incline. These feelings may persist as they go up or down stairs or an incline.

Climacophobia means fear of climbing. With this phobia, symptoms like fear and dread only happen during the act of climbing. Someone with bathmophobia may also have climacophobia and vice versa.

Symptoms and Causes

Who is at risk for bathmophobia?

Specific phobic disorders affect all ages and genders. Certain factors may increase your risk of having a specific phobic disorder like bathmophobia. These risk factors include:

  • Being female (assigned female at birth).
  • Having a family history of bathmophobia or another phobia or anxiety disorder.
  • Having a gene change (mutation) that increases the risk of an anxiety disorder.

What other phobias are associated with bathmophobia?

In addition to climacophobia, someone who has a fear of stairs may have:

  • Acrophobia (fear of heights).
  • Barophobia (fear of gravity).
  • Basiphobia (fear of falling).
  • Illyngophobia (fear of vertigo or dizziness when looking down a set of stairs or a steep incline).
  • Thanatophobia (fear of dying).

Why do I have a fear of stairs and slopes?

A traumatic experience can make you afraid of stairs and slopes. Potential causes of bathmophobia include:

  • A scary fall on a set of stairs or an incline that causes serious injuries.
  • Witnessing another person’s injury or death due to a fall on a slope or stairs.
  • Watching a show about someone’s injury or death as a result of a fall on stairs or a slope.

What are bathmophobia symptoms?

Often, a person with bathmophobia is aware that a fear of stairs is extreme. But they can’t control how they feel when they see stairs or a slope.

Symptoms of bathmophobia may include:

Diagnosis and Tests

How is bathmophobia diagnosed?

The diagnostic manual for the American Psychiatric Association (the DSM-5) doesn’t recognize fear of stairs or slopes as a phobia. But you may receive a diagnosis if you meet these criteria for having a specific phobic disorder:

  • Symptoms that occur anytime you see or think about stairs or slopes or have to go up or down them.
  • Chronic fear of stairs and slopes that lasts for at least six months.
  • Extreme changes to behaviors or routines to help you avoid stairs and slopes.
  • Diminished quality of life due to phobia symptoms.

Management and Treatment

What is bathmophobia treatment?

A mental health professional like a psychologist can help you overcome a fear of stairs and slopes. Treatments may include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This form of psychotherapy (talk therapy) helps you explore and understand why you have a fear of stairs. With CBT, you learn techniques to change these perceptions and reactions.
  • Exposure therapy: Most people with specific phobias improve with exposure therapy, a type of psychotherapy. Your therapist gradually exposes you to images and situations that trigger symptoms. Over time, you become less sensitive to the triggers. This process is called desensitization.
  • Hypnotherapy: Your therapist may use hypnotherapy along with psychotherapy. Hypnotherapy involves being in a hypnotic state or trance to help you access memories, thoughts and emotions related to the fear.
  • Medications: Some people benefit from anti-anxiety drugs or antidepressants while undergoing therapy. Medications can help you get through a short-term situation when you know you’ll have to face stairs or inclines. You shouldn’t need medicine once therapy is complete.

What are the complications of bathmophobia?

An extreme fear of stairs and slopes may make you want to stay home or in areas that you consider safe because they don’t have stairs or slopes. When you avoid going out, you may have agoraphobia.

Phobic disorders also increase your risk of:

Living With

When should I call the doctor?

You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:

  • Panic attacks.
  • Persistent anxiety that interferes with daily life or sleeping.
  • Signs of depression or problems with substances.

What questions should I ask my doctor?

You may want to ask your healthcare provider:

  • What’s causing bathmophobia?
  • What’s the best treatment for me?
  • Should I try exposure therapy?
  • How long will I need therapy?
  • Can medications help?
  • Should I watch for signs of complications?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Stairs and slopes are found in all kinds of places: homes, stores, buses, subways, schools and workplaces, to name a few. It isn’t practical to avoid stairs or slopes altogether. A fear of stairs and slopes can make you afraid to explore new places and limit your ability to be out in the world. Talk to your healthcare provider if you find yourself going to great lengths to avoid stairs or inclines. Most people with specific phobic disorders like bathmophobia overcome their fears through psychotherapies like CBT and exposure therapy.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/22/2022.

References

  • American Psychological Association. What Is Exposure Therapy? (https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/exposure-therapy) Accessed 3/22/2022.
  • Merck Manual (Consumer Version). Phobic Disorders (Phobias). (https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/quick-facts-mental-health-disorders/anxiety-and-stress-related-disorders/phobic-disorders-phobias) Accessed 3/22/2022.
  • Merck Manual (Consumer Version). Specific Phobic Disorders. (https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/mental-health-disorders/anxiety-and-stress-related-disorders/specific-phobic-disorders) Accessed 3/22/2022.
  • National Health Service (UK). Overview: Phobias. (https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/phobias/overview/) Accessed 3/22/2022.
  • National Institute of Mental Health. Specific Phobia. (https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/specific-phobia) Accessed 3/22/2022.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Impact of the DSM-IV to DSM-5 changes on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519704/table/ch3.t11/) [Internet]. Accessed 3/22/2022.

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