Agoraphobia is a type of phobia. A phobia is the excessive fear of a specific object, circumstance or situation. Agoraphobia is excessive worry about having a panic attack in a public place. Commonly feared places and situations are elevators, sporting events, bridges, public transportation, shopping malls, airplanes, crowds or lines of people.

Typical agoraphobia symptoms include:

  • Fear of being alone in any situation
  • Fear of being in crowded places
  • Fear of losing control in a public place
  • Fear of being in places where it may be hard to leave, such as an elevator or train
  • Inability to leave your house for long periods (housebound)
  • Sense of helplessness
  • Overdependence on others
  • A sense that your body is unreal

In addition, you may also have signs and symptoms similar to a panic attack, including:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Flushing
  • Nausea
  • Upset stomach or diarrhea
  • Chest pain
  • Feeling a loss of control
  • Trouble swallowing

When to see a doctor

Agoraphobia can severely limit your ability to socialize, work, attend important events and even manage the details of daily life, such as running errands.

Some people with agoraphobia have "safe zones," or places they can go without severe worry, especially if accompanied by a trusted friend or relative. Sometimes they may muster up the courage to go somewhere, but they still feel extremely uncomfortable.

Often, however, agoraphobia can make you feel like a prisoner in your own home. If you believe you're going to have a panic attack when you go out in public, you may indeed have one — causing a vicious cycle. The number of places you're able to go may become fewer and fewer.

Don't let agoraphobia make your world smaller. Call your doctor if you have symptoms of agoraphobia.

Apr. 21, 2011