Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed. You fear an actual or anticipated situation, such as using public transportation, being in open or enclosed spaces, standing in line, or being in a crowd.
People with agoraphobia often have a hard time feeling safe in any public place, especially where crowds gather. You may feel that you need a companion, such as a relative or friend, to go with you to public places. The fear can be so overwhelming that you may feel unable to leave your home.
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.
Biology — including health conditions and genetics — temperament, environmental stress, and learning experiences may all play a role in the development of agoraphobia.
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
Agoraphobia can also lead to or be associated with:
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Other mental health disorders, including other anxiety disorders or personality disorders
Do you know anyone with Agoraphobia? What is your story?