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Classification and external resources
ICD-10 F40.
F40.00 Without panic disorder, F40.01 With panic disorder
ICD-9 300.22 Without panic disorder, 300.21 With panic disorder
MeSH D000379

Agoraphobia (from Greek ἀγορά, "marketplace"; and φόβος/φοβία, -phobia) is an anxiety disorder. Agoraphobia may arise by the fear of having a panic attack in a setting from which there is no perceived easy means of escape. Alternatively, social anxiety problems may also be an underlying cause. As a result, sufferers of agoraphobia avoid public and/or unfamiliar places, especially large, open spaces such as shopping malls or airports where there are few places to hide. In severe cases, the sufferer may become confined to his or her home, experiencing difficulty traveling from this safe place. Although mostly thought to be a fear of public places, it is now believed that agoraphobia develops as a complication of panic attacks.[1] However, there is evidence that the implied one-way causal relationship between spontaneous panic attacks and agoraphobia in DSM-IV may be incorrect.[2] Onset is usually between ages 20 and 40 years and more common in women.[3] Approximately 3.2 million adults in the US between the ages of 18 and 54, or about 2.2%, suffer from agoraphobia.[4] Agoraphobia can account for approximately 60% of phobias; two thirds of the population who have agoraphobia are women [5]. Agoraphobia as studies have shown, has two age groups at which the first onset generally occurs; early to mid twenties and in the early thirties thus helping to distinguish between simple phobias in child and adolescent years (Gelder,Mayou and Geddes.2005).

In response to a traumatic event, anxiety may interrupt the formation of memories and disrupt the learning processes, resulting in dissociation. Depersonalization (a feeling of disconnection from one’s self) and derealisation (a feeling of disconnection from one's surroundings) are other dissociative methods of withdrawing from anxiety [6]


Not to be confused with agraphobia, agoraphobia is a condition where the sufferer becomes anxious in environments that are unfamiliar or where he or she perceives that they have little control. Triggers for this anxiety may include wide open spaces, crowds (social anxiety), or traveling (even short distances). Agoraphobia is often, but not always, compounded by a fear of social embarrassment, as the agoraphobic fears the onset of a panic attack and appearing distraught in public. This is also sometimes called 'Social Agoraphobia' which may be a type of social anxiety disorder also sometimes called "social phobia".

Not all agoraphobia is social in nature, however. Some agoraphobics have a fear of open spaces. Agoraphobia is also a defined as "a fear, sometimes terrifying, by those who have experienced one or more panic attacks". In these cases, the sufferer is fearful of a particular place because they have experienced a panic attack at the same location in a previous time. Fearing the onset of another panic attack, the sufferer is fearful or even avoids the location. Some refuse to leave their home even in medical emergencies because the fear of being outside of their comfort area is too great. The sufferer can sometimes go to great lengths to avoid the locations where they have experienced the onset of a panic attack. Agoraphobia, as described in this manner, is actually a symptom professionals check for when making a diagnosis of panic disorder. Other syndromes like obsessive compulsive disorder or post traumatic stress disorder can also cause agoraphobia, basically any irrational fear that keeps one from going outside can cause the syndrome.[7]

It is not uncommon for agoraphobics to also suffer from temporary Separation Anxiety Disorder when certain other individuals of the household depart from the residence temporarily, such as a parent or spouse, or when the agoraphobic is left home alone. Such temporary conditions can result in an increase in anxiety or a panic attack.

Another common associative disorder of agoraphobia is necrophobia—fear of death. The anxiety level of agoraphobics often increases when dwelling upon the idea of eventually dying, which they consciously or unconsciously associate with being the ultimate separation from their mortal emotional comfort and safety zones and loved ones, even for those who may otherwise spiritually believe in some form of divine afterlife existence.

Gender differences

Agoraphobia occurs about twice as commonly among women as it does in men.[8] The gender difference may be attributable to social-cultural factors that encourage, or permit, the greater expression of avoidant coping strategies by women. Other theories include the ideas that women are more likely to seek help and therefore be diagnosed, that men are more likely to abuse alcohol as a reaction to anxiety and be diagnosed as an alcoholic, and that traditional female sex roles encourage women to react to anxiety by engaging in dependent and helpless behaviors.[9] Research results have not yet produced a single clear explanation as to the gender difference[citation needed] in agoraphobia.

Causes and contributing factors

The exact causes of agoraphobia are currently unknown, although some clinicians that have treated or attempted to treat agoraphobia offer valid theories. The condition has been linked to the presence of other anxiety disorders, a stressful environment or substance abuse. Chronic use of tranquilizers and sleeping pills such as benzodiazepines has been linked to causing agoraphobia.[10] When benzodiazepine dependence has been treated and after a period of abstinence, agoraphobia symptoms gradually abate.[11]

Research has uncovered a linkage between agoraphobia and difficulties with spatial orientation.[12][13] Individuals without agoraphobia are able to maintain balance by combining information from their vestibular system, their visual system and their proprioceptive sense. A disproportionate number of agoraphobics have weak vestibular function and consequently rely more on visual or tactile signals. They may become disoriented when visual cues are sparse as in wide open spaces or overwhelming as in crowds. Likewise, they may be confused by sloping or irregular surfaces.[14] Compared to controls, in virtual reality studies, agoraphobics on average show impaired processing of changing audiovisual data.[15]

Alternate theories

Attachment theory

Some scholars [16][17] have explained agoraphobia as an attachment deficit, i.e., the temporary loss of the ability to tolerate spatial separations from a secure base.[18] Recent empirical research has also linked attachment and spatial theories of agoraphobia.[19]

Spatial theory

In the social sciences there is a perceived clinical bias [20] in agoraphobia research. Branches of the social sciences, especially geography, have increasingly become interested in what may be thought of as a spatial phenomenon. One such approach links the development of agoraphobia with modernity.[21]


Most people who present to mental health specialists develop agoraphobia after the onset of panic disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 1998). Agoraphobia is best understood as an adverse behavioral outcome of repeated panic attacks and subsequent anxiety and preoccupation with these attacks that leads to an avoidance of situations where a panic attack could occur.[22] In rare cases where agoraphobics do not meet the criteria used to diagnose Panic Disorder, the formal diagnosis of Agoraphobia Without History of Panic Disorder is used (Primary Agoraphobia).

Association with panic attacks

Agoraphobia patients can experience sudden panic attacks when traveling to places where they fear they are out of control, help would be difficult to obtain, or they could be embarrassed. During a panic attack, epinephrine is released in large amounts, triggering the body's natural fight-or-flight response. A panic attack typically has an abrupt onset, building to maximum intensity within 10 to 15 minutes, and rarely lasts longer than 30 minutes.[23] Symptoms of a panic attack include palpitations, a rapid heartbeat, sweating, trembling, vomiting, dizziness, tightness in the throat and shortness of breath. Many patients report a fear of dying or of losing control of emotions and/or behavior.[23]


Cognitive behavioral treatments

Exposure treatment can provide lasting relief to the majority of patients with panic disorder and agoraphobia. Disappearance of residual and subclinical agoraphobic avoidance, and not simply of panic attacks, should be the aim of exposure therapy.[24] Similarly, Systematic desensitization may also be used. Many patients can deal with exposure easier if they are in the company of a friend they can rely on (Gelder, Mayou and Geddes 2005). It is vital that patients remain in the situation until anxiety has abated because if they leave the situation the phobic response will not decrease and it may even rise (Gelder, Mayou and Geddes 2005).

Cognitive restructuring has also proved useful in treating agoraphobia. This treatment involves coaching a participant through a dianoetic discussion, with the intent of substituting irrational, counterproductive beliefs with more factual and beneficial ones.[citation needed]

Relaxation techniques are often useful skills for the agoraphobic to develop, as they can be used to stop or prevent symptoms of anxiety and panic.[citation needed]

Psychopharmaceutical treatments

Anti-depressant medications most commonly used to treat anxiety disorders are mainly in the SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) class and include sertraline, paroxetine and fluoxetine. Benzodiazepine tranquilizers, MAO inhibitors and tricyclic antidepressants are also commonly prescribed for treatment of agoraphobia.[citation needed] Antidespressants are important because some have antipanic effects (Gelder, Mayou and Geddes 2005). Antidepressants should be used in conjunction with exposure as a form of self-help or with cognitive behaviour therapy (Gelder, Mayou and Geddes 2005). Some evidence shows that a combination of medication and cognitive behaviour therapy is the most effective treatment for agoraphobia (Gelder, Mayou and Geddes 2005).

Alternative treatments

Eye movement desensitization and reprogramming (EMDR) has been studied as a possible treatment for agoraphobia, with poor results.[25] As such, EMDR is only recommended in cases where cognitive-behavioral approaches have proven ineffective or in cases where agoraphobia has developed following trauma.[26]

Many people with anxiety disorders benefit from joining a self-help or support group (telephone conference call support groups or online support groups being of particular help for completely housebound individuals). Sharing problems and achievements with others as well as sharing various self-help tools are common activities in these groups. In particular stress management techniques and various kinds of meditation practices as well as visualization techniques can help people with anxiety disorders calm themselves and may enhance the effects of therapy. So can service to others which can distract from the self-absorption that tends to go with anxiety problems. There is also preliminary evidence that aerobic exercise may have a calming effect. Since caffeine, certain illicit drugs, and even some over-the-counter cold medications can aggravate the symptoms of anxiety disorders, they should be avoided.[27]

Notable agoraphobes

See also


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  6. Nettina, M,S. 2006. Manual of Nursing Practice. 8th Ed. US:Lippincott Company.
  7. Psych Central: Agoraphobia Symptoms
  8. Magee, WJ.; Eaton, WW.; Wittchen, HU.; McGonagle, KA.; Kessler, RC. (Feb 1996). "Agoraphobia, simple phobia, and social phobia in the National Comorbidity Survey.". Arch Gen Psychiatry 53 (2): 159-68. PMID 8629891.
  9. Agoraphobia Research Center. "Is agoraphobia more common in men or women?". Retrieved 2007-11-15.
  10. Hammersley D, Beeley L (1996). "The effects of medication on counselling". In Palmer S, Dainow S, Milner P (eds.). Counselling: The BACP Counselling Reader. 1. Sage. pp. 211–4. ISBN 978-0803974777.
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  12. Yardley, L; Britton, J; Lear, S; Bird, J; Luxon, LM (1995 May). "Relationship between balance system function and agoraphobic avoidance.". Behav Res Ther. 33 (4): 435–9. doi:10.1016/0005-7967(94)00060-W. PMID 7755529 : 7755529.
  13. Jacob, RG; Furman, JM; Durrant, JD; Turner, SM (1996). "Panic, agoraphobia, and vestibular dysfunction". Am J Psychiatry 153 (4): 503–512. PMID 8599398.
  14. Jacob, RG; Furman, JM; Durrant, JD; Turner, SM (1997 May–June). "Surface dependence: a balance control strategy in panic disorder with agoraphobia". Psychosom Med. 59 (3): 323–30. PMID 9178344 : 9178344.
  15. Viauddelmon, I; Warusfel, O; Seguelas, A; Rio, E; Jouvent, R (2006 October). "High sensitivity to multisensory conflicts in agoraphobia exhibited by virtual reality.". Eur Psychiatry 21 (7): 501–8. doi:10.1016/j.eurpsy.2004.10.004. PMID 17055951 : 17055951.
  16. G. Liotti, (1996). Insecure attachment and agoraphobia, in: C. Murray-Parkes, J. Stevenson-Hinde, & P. Marris (Eds.). Attachment Across the Life Cycle.
  17. J. Bowlby, (1998). Attachment and Loss (Vol. 2: Separation).
  18. K. Jacobson, (2004). "Agoraphobia and Hypochondria as Disorders of Dwelling." International Studies in Philosophy 36, 31-44.
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  20. J. Davidson, (2003). Phobic Geographies
  21. J. Holmes, (2006). "Building Bridges and Breaking Boundaries: Modernity and Agoraphobia", Opticon1826, 1, 1,
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  23. 23.0 23.1 David Satcher etal. (1999). "Chapter 4.2". Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General.
  24. Fava, G.A.; Rafanelli, C.; Grandi, S.; Cinto, S.; Ruini, C.; Mangelli, L; Belluardo, P (2001). "Long-term outcome of panic disorder with agoraphobia treated by exposure". Psychological Medicine (Cambridge University Press) 31 (5): 891–898. doi:10.1017/S0033291701003592. PMID 11459386.
  25. Goldstein, Alan J.; Goldstein, Alan J., de Beurs, Edwin, Chambless, Dianne L., Wilson, Kimberly A. (2000). "EMDR for Panic Disorder With Agoraphobia : Comparison With Waiting List and Credible Attention-Placebo Control Conditions". Journal of Consulting & Clinical Psychology 68 (6): 947–957. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.68.6.947.
  26. Agoraphobia Resource Center. "Agoraphobia treatments - Eye movement desensitization and reprogramming". Retrieved 2008-04-18.
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  40. NYT Review by Joyce Carol Oates
  41. essay by Jonathan Lethem

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