What is Agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia is one type of anxiety disorder that limits the places and situations a person feels comfortable and safe. A person with agoraphobia feels anxiety being in places where they cannot easily escape or where they do not feel they can get help should they experience a panic attack or intense anxiety symptoms. Agoraphobia is thought to develop from the fear of having a panic attack.
Fears from agoraphobia usually center around being outside alone, being in crowds or at a party, standing in line, being in a restaurant or theatre, riding public transportation such as a train or bus, being in a car, or being on a bridge. People with agoraphobia must endure situations with distress and fear or avoid situations that can cause a panic attack altogether. This can severely limit activities or a person’s abilities to function on a daily basis. Often, people with agoraphobia will require another person to be with them when leaving their homes.
Agoraphobia differs from social anxiety disorder in that intense anxiety feelings are not limited only to social situations or because they are afraid of being embarrassed in public.
The symptoms of agoraphobia are the same as symptoms of a panic attack. They normally develop suddenly and can last up to ten minutes or longer. According to Helpguide.org, symptoms of a panic attack/agoraphobia include at least four of the following:
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling as if you can’t breathe
- Palpitations, rapid heart beat
- Chest pain
- Shaking, trembling
- Stomachache, nausea
- Being dizzy, lightheaded or faint
- Fear of going crazy
- Fear of dying
- Either hot or cold flashes
While it is not known exactly what causes agoraphobia, it is considered to be a combination of genetics, life experiences and individual temperament. Some of the risk factors associated with agoraphobia include:
Genetics – Agoraphobia and panic disorder are considered to be hereditary.
Biological Reasons – Some research suggests people with agoraphobia have increased brain activity in certain portions of the brain as well as the nervous system. It is not clear, however, whether the increased activity causes the panic attack or if the panic attack causes the increased activity.