Symptoms and causes

Symptoms

Typical agoraphobia symptoms include fear of:

  • Leaving home alone
  • Crowds or waiting in line
  • Enclosed spaces, such as movie theaters, elevators or small stores
  • Open spaces, such as parking lots, bridges or malls
  • Using public transportation, such as a bus, plane or train

These situations cause anxiety because you fear you won't be able to escape or find help if you start to feel panicked or have other disabling or embarrassing symptoms.

In addition:

  • Fear or anxiety almost always results from exposure to the situation
  • Your fear or anxiety is out of proportion to the actual danger of the situation
  • You avoid the situation, you need a companion to go with you, or you endure the situation but are extremely distressed
  • You experience significant distress or problems with social situations, work or other areas in your life because of the fear, anxiety or avoidance
  • Your phobia and avoidance usually lasts six months or longer

Panic disorder and agoraphobia

Some people have a panic disorder in addition to agoraphobia. Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder in which you experience sudden attacks of extreme fear that reach a peak within a few minutes and trigger intense physical symptoms (panic attacks). You might think that you're totally losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.

Fear of another panic attack can lead to avoiding similar circumstances or the place where it occurred in an attempt to prevent future panic attacks.

Signs and symptoms of a panic attack can include:

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

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.

Don't let agoraphobia make your world smaller. Call your doctor if you have signs or symptoms listed above.

Causes

Biology — including health conditions and genetics — temperament, environmental stress and learning experiences may all play a role in the development of agoraphobia.

Risk factors

Agoraphobia can begin in childhood, but usually starts in the late teen or early adult years — usually before age 35 — but older adults can also develop it. Women are diagnosed with agoraphobia more often than men are.

Risk factors for agoraphobia include:

  • Having panic disorder or other phobias
  • Responding to panic attacks with excessive fear and avoidance
  • Experiencing stressful life events, such as abuse, the death of a parent or being attacked
  • Having an anxious or nervous temperament
  • Having a blood relative with agoraphobia

Complications

Agoraphobia can greatly limit your life's activities. If your agoraphobia is severe, you may not even be able to leave your home. Without treatment, some people become housebound for years. You may not be able to visit with family and friends, go to school or work, run errands, or take part in other normal daily activities. You may become dependent on others for help.

Agoraphobia can also lead to or be associated with:

  • Depression
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Other mental health disorders, including other anxiety disorders or personality disorders
March 22, 2017
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