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January 5, 2012

Severe Social Anxiety: Understanding Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder that often occurs in combination with panic attacks, also called Panic Disorder, and is a fear of being in any place or situation where it would be difficult to escape or get help if needed. The literal translation of Agoraphobia is "fear of the marketplace," which may lead to the incorrect assumption that Agoraphobics are simply afraid to go outside. However, a person with Agoraphobia typically feels unsafe in any public place - especially those places that tend to be crowded. Common fears of an Agoraphobic include crowded shopping malls, using public transportation or flying on an airplane, being stuck on a crowded bridge or freeway, standing in line, or attending sporting events. These fears may be heightened by fear of a panic attack, which typically involves such extreme fear and intense physical symptoms - such as trouble breathing, chest pain and lightheadedness - that a person with Agoraphobia may feel like they're going crazy or might even die. A panic attack may come on suddenly, and without warning - while standing in line at the market, sitting on a bus or simply out watching a movie with friends. The unpredictability of the panic attacks often leads to avoiding places where an attack previously occurred. As a result, people with Agoraphobia often develop "safe zones" where they can go without experiencing severe anxiety. The severity of Agoraphobia varies. Some people simply avoid fear-provoking situations and lead a relatively normal life. Others may experience such constant anxiety about when and where a panic attack might occur that they become afraid to venture from the safety of their home. Agoraphobia typically begins during adolescence or early adulthood, although it may also develop in young children and older adults. And, while the exact cause of Agoraphobia isn't known, researchers have identified several risk factors including: stressful childhood events, a tendency toward anxiety, and panic-like symptoms. Women are also three times more likely to develop Agoraphobia than men. Although Agoraphobia often results in isolation, depression and even substance abuse to help cope with fear and loneliness, there are treatments that can help. The first step is to see a doctor for a complete physical exam to rule out any medical causes. Most people with Agoraphobia can improve their quality of life with treatment from a trained therapist. The most effective treatments for Agoraphobia are cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy, which help patients overcome anxiety and fear through controlled, gradual exposure. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs may also be used to help reduce symptoms and enhance the therapy's effectiveness. Agoraphobia can be treated successfully. If you - or someone you know - is affected by Agoraphobia, consult a mental health professional.

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Last Updated:
December 20, 2012