What is agoraphobia?

What is agoraphobia?

Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder, brought on by the fear of experiencing panic attacks in a location which appears to provide no means of escape. Those who suffer from agoraphobia become anxious in unfamiliar environments where it is perceived that they have little or no control, for example, in crowds, wide open spaces or when travelling.

As a consequence, those suffering from agoraphobia avoid public places, and in severe instances may become confined to their home. The symptoms of agoraphobia, which have no obvious trigger to an outsider, occur when the sufferer is situated in an environment where they feel outside of their comfort zone.

What are the symptoms of agoraphobia?

Common symptoms associated with agoraphobia include:

  • Panic attacks
  • Periods of intense anxiety
  • Fear of leaving their home – in extreme cases

Who does it affect?

It is estimated that there are up to five million agoraphobia sufferers in the UK, and it is approximately twice as common in women as it is in men. This gender difference has been attributed to a number of theories. Women are said to display a greater expression of avoidant coping strategies, whereas men may consume alcohol as a reaction to the anxiety and their initial condition will be disguised by an alcohol addiction. A popular theory, as is the case with many mental health conditions, is that women are more likely to seek help. However, research has not identified one overriding explanation for the gender difference.

What are the causes of agoraphobia?

The cause of agoraphobia is unknown; however it is often associated with other anxiety disorders, a stressful environment or substance misuse. 

Researchers have found links between agoraphobia and those who experience difficulties in spatial awareness. Whilst many people are able to combine their balance and sense of space with their visual system, and integrate that information with the relative position of parts of the body, many agoraphobics have been found to have a weakened system of balance and space. 

This causes an imbalance so that they rely on visual or tactile signals. As a result, they become disorientated in wide open spaces because visual cues are not as prevalent, or they can become overwhelmed in crowded environments.

The majority of agoraphobia sufferers will be diagnosed as a result of panic attacks.  The sufferer will identify situations in which they are not comfortable and go to extreme lengths to avoid such environments.

The treatment of agoraphobia

Priory has been helping to treat agoraphobia for over 25 years. We recognise that everyone's situation is different, which is why we ensure that everyone has a unique treatment plan tailored to their needs.

The type and length of treatment is dependent on the individual's circumstances and the severity of the condition. Some patients are treated as outpatients, which means they come to Priory for hourly sessions with their consultant, psychologist or therapist.  Others require a more structured treatment approach which can include staying at one of the Priory hospitals for the duration of their treatment where they take part in the psychological group programme as well as regular sessions with their consultant.

For further details on how Priory can provide you with further assistance regarding What is agoraphobia?, please call 0800 840 3219. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here