Agoraphobia is the intense fear of public spaces or situations where it would be difficult or embarrassing to escape or get help in the event of a panic attack. While people often think that agoraphobia makes you afraid of open spaces, it has more to do with public spaces. What Symptoms Does Agoraphobia Cause?
According to a study by Gomez Ayala (2012 – Spanish link), the annual prevalence of agoraphobia is 0.3%. That prevalence may be a bit higher at the moment. It usually starts in late adolescence and affects twice as many women as men.
Symptoms of agoraphobia
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), these are the symptoms of agoraphobia:
Anxiety or an intense feeling of restlessness
This fear or anxiety occurs in two or more of the following contexts:
- Public transport (trains, buses, boats, etc.).
- Open spaces (markets, bridges, etc.).
- Enclosed areas (shops, cinemas, etc.).
- Standing in line or being in a crowd.
- Go out alone.
Avoidance is a symptom of agoraphobia
Another symptom of agoraphobia is avoiding the situations mentioned above. People with this phobia avoid them because they think it is difficult to escape from them.
For example, they also think that if they had a panic attack or experienced other symptoms, they would not be able to get help. As a result, not only do they try their best to avoid them, they are also very afraid of them.
When facing these specific situations, someone with agoraphobia always brings along a friend or some sort of protective amulet or other object that provides comfort. If they have to face it alone, their only choice is to try to deal with their intense fear, which can be quite debilitating.
Another feature of agoraphobia is that agoraphobic situations (ie, the object of the individual’s fears) almost always cause fear. In other words, it is continuous and constant. So it’s not something that happens every now and then.
Another characteristic symptom of agoraphobia is that the fear is disproportionate to the real danger posed by the situation in question. Nor is it proportionate to the socio-cultural context. However, this symptom is not unique to agoraphobia. It is part of any kind of phobia.
The fear lasts for at least six months
To arrive at a diagnosis of agoraphobia, the DSM-5 states that the patient’s fear, anxiety, or avoidance must be continuous and last at least six months. If these conditions are not met, the person in question does not have the condition.
Significant distress is also a symptom of agoraphobia
Agoraphobia causes clinically significant distress and affects the patient’s quality of life, be it on a personal, professional or other level. In other words, the phobia interferes with the patient’s ability to function normally in his daily life.
If the patient has another medical condition or mental disorder, his fear, anxiety, or avoidance must be clearly excessive. In other words, the symptoms cannot be explained by any condition other than agoraphobia.
Beyond the Symptoms: More About Agoraphobia
You’ve seen how agoraphobia symptoms can disrupt a person’s life, but what else is important to know? We mentioned above that this anxiety disorder is more common in women than in men. Women also tend to have more severe agoraphobia and psychiatric comorbidity (Gomez Ayala, 2012).
Genetics also plays a more important role for women than environmental factors. As a result, the earlier the onset of the condition, the greater the genetic burden and severity of the evolution of the phobia.
A chronic condition?
In general, agoraphobia is chronic. However, the intensity can vary considerably over the course of the person’s life. On the other hand, just because it’s usually a chronic condition doesn’t mean there isn’t a treatment available.
In fact, psychotherapy is one of the best options for treating agoraphobia. Sometimes mental health specialists will recommend medication in addition to therapy.
Its association with panic disorder
According to the 2012 Gomez Ayala study, agoraphobia is often associated with panic disorder. 75% of people with agoraphobia also have panic disorder. Remember that panic disorder consists of two or more sudden panic attacks, along with fear and anxiety about the possibility of future panic attacks.