Agoraphobia

Description

Agoraphobia is part of the large family of anxiety disorders.

A person with agoraphobia feels intense fear or anxiety in a situation or place that represents a real or anticipated danger for them, for example in public transportation (bus, train, plane, etc.), in open spaces (parking lot, market, bridge, etc.), in an enclosed place (store, cinema, etc.), in a queue, in a crowd or outside their home.

They fear these situations because they think it might be difficult to escape or get help if they have a panic attack or become incapacitated (e.g. in the case of an elderly person, a fall or incontinence). The fear or anxiety is disproportionate to the actual danger associated with these situations, which are then avoided or experienced with intense anxiety or fear. For example, the person may be unable to go grocery shopping or go to a concert.

To refer to agoraphobia, the fear and anxiety must be present for at least six months.

Signs and symptoms

Agoraphobia is characterized by the sudden and unpredictable onset of one or more of the following signs and symptoms:

  • a feeling that something terrible might happen;
  • avoiding the situation that generates intense fear or anxiety (e.g., choosing a job nearby to avoid using public transportation);
  • a feeling of fear or anxiety that is disproportionate to the actual danger;
  • physical ailments such as vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea.

If a panic attack occurs, the best thing to do is to stay put and breathe slowly until it is over. A family member or friend can encourage the person having the attack to breathe slowly, at the same rate as them. For more information about panic attacks, go to the page Panic disorder.

When to consult

Do not wait to be unable to conduct your usual activities to seek help. If you have signs or symptoms of a agoraphobia, you can consult a resource in the field of anxiety disorders and mental health. You will find information, help and support.

However, consult a doctor or another healthcare and social services professional if you experience one of the following situations:

  • Your fears are causing you distress.
  • You have difficulty to accomplish your daily activities and fulfilling social, professional and family responsibilities.
  • You isolate yourself or limit your daily activities because you are afraid.

The person you will meet can assess your needs and offer solutions to support you in the management of anxiety. To clarify the nature of your difficulties, they may suggest that you carry out a health exam or refer you to another professional for a more in-depth assessment. They will then discuss with you the different services or approaches that could meet your needs.

To find out how to access mental health care and services, go to the page Stepped mental health care and services.

General notice

Recognizing signs of distress

Distress and suffering may be very severe for a person with agoraphobia and for their family and friends. If you have suicidal thoughts and fear for your safety or that of people around you, see the page Recognizing signs of distress and preventing suicide. You will find further information on help and resources available.

Care and services

There are treatments and services that are recognized as effective in supporting people with agoraphobia. In particular, they relieve the symptoms and help them regain control of their lives and daily activities. The earlier a person consults, the better their prospects for recovery.

For more information, see the section Care and services of the page Anxiety disorders.

Associated issues

Living with untreated agoraphobia can have several consequences for the person and their family and friends. Consult the page Anxious disorders to find out the issues associated with anxiety disorders.

Prejudice

People living with agoraphobia are sometimes victims of their own prejudices and those of society at large. These prejudices discourage people from seeking help or continuing their treatment. To find out more about prejudice, its consequences and how to fight it, go to the page Fighting the stigma surrounding mental disorders.

Mental health and prevention

It is not always possible to prevent the onset of agoraphobia. However, if you exhibit signs or symptoms associated with this disorder, there are ways to reduce symptoms and feel better.

Tips for promoting good mental health can help you change certain lifestyle habits. These changes can have a positive impact on your health and reduce or even eliminate some risk factors associated with the presence of mental disorders.

Risk factors

Agoraphobia has no clear identified cause. Often, it is a combination of several factors that results in the onset of the signs and symptoms of agoraphobia. These factors can be biological, hereditary, individual or environmental. See the page Anxiety disorder to learn more about the risk factors of anxiety disorders.

Help and resources

To find information and support resources or to obtain care or services for agoraphobia, go to the page Finding mental health help and support resources.

Last update: May 13, 2024

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