Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder that can sometimes co-occur with panic disorder. Its prevalence rate in the population is low, occurring in only about 1.1% of the population. Agoraphobia is hallmarked by a fear of leaving the house or other safe place. This often cooccurs with panic attack or panic disorder because a person has experienced a panic attack and then fears that they may have one again or that they will experience some other feared situation such as traveling on a bridge, going through a tunnel, or being stuck in a crowd of people. In some situations, the person may be able to encounter the feared situation, but they do so with such dread that the activity and many other parts of life lose their joy and peacefulness, which can even lead to depression and other psychiatric disorders. In some instances agoraphobia can be diagnosed without a history of panic disorder.
The criteria for Agoraphobia are as follows:
- A fear or anxiety about being in places or situations where escape may be challenging. This fear is often surrounding being unable to quickly escape if the sufferer has a panic attack and could become trapped or unable to leave.
- The fear of being unable to leave leads to an avoidance of said situations which can result in restriction of travel or in some instances the situations are endured but only with a certain safe person or friend.
- This specific phobic avoidance is not accounted for by another disorder such as social anxiety or post traumatic stress disorder.
A person who has experienced a panic disorder may state “ Before I sought treatment and recovered from agoraphobia, I rarely left my apartment for 2 years. It all started when I was walking down a crowded street in downtown Pittsburgh and suddenly I had hot flashes, I was sweating and couldn’t breathe, the pain in my chest became so bad that I ran for help and reached for the lady next to me and told her to ‘Help, call 911!’ When I was diagnosed as having a panic attack the hospital I couldn’t believe it, everything changed for me then. I wanted to avoid having another episode and the only place I felt better was at home. I avoided everyone and even did my grocery shopping online. It became so bad that I started to feel anxious when I thought about leaving home for anything.”
A person with agoraphobia suffers greatly, their ability to function in life is limited including socially, emotionally, and psychologically. Treating panic disorders can be extremely difficult because the person may not want to leave their home even to seek help, fortunately treatment using distance or online counseling is now an option. The best treatment for Agoraphobia is psychotherapy, a counseling or therapy approach which uses exposure therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. Medication or Pharmacological therapy including anxiolytic medications and SSRI’s are often used effectively to treat Agoraphobia too, medication is often used in conjunction with counseling or psychotherapy.