What is agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia is a Greek word that literally means "fear of the marketplace." This anxiety disorder involves the fear of experiencing a panic attack in a place or situation from which escape may be difficult or embarrassing.
The anxiety associated with agoraphobia is so severe that panic attacks are not unusual. Individuals with agoraphobia typically try to avoid the location or cause of their fear. Agoraphobia involves fear of situations like the following:
People with agoraphobia typically avoid crowded places like streets, crowded stores, churches, and theaters.
What are the characteristics of agoraphobia?
Most people with agoraphobia develop the disorder after first suffering a series of 1 or more panic attacks. The attacks happen randomly and without warning, and make it impossible for a person to predict what situations will trigger the reaction. This unpredictability of the panic causes the person to anticipate future panic attacks and, eventually, fear any situation in which an attack may happen. As a result, they avoid going into any place or situation where previous panic attacks have happened.
People with the disorder often become so disabled that they literally feel they cannot leave their homes. Others who have agoraphobia, do go into potentially "phobic" situations, but only with great distress, or when accompanied by a trusted friend or family member.
People with agoraphobia may also develop depression, fatigue, tension, alcohol or drug abuse problems, and obsessive disorders, making seeking treatment crucial. Approximately 1.7% of American adults experience agoraphobia in a given year.