What is agoraphobia? | Symptoms, causes, and how to treat the disorder

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The fear experienced by agoraphobics can lead to the feeling that they cannot leave the house.

Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder in which people fear real or expected situations in which they may have a panic attack, feel trapped, helpless, or even ashamed. People diagnosed with agoraphobia may suffer from it after one or more panic attacks, so they avoid places where it might happen again.

Agoraphobics avoid crowds or being in public places or open spaces with people, such as busy streets. Fear can be so overwhelming that they often feel they cannot leave the house. Only in it do they feel safe. This disorder affects more women than men and usually develops between the ages of 25 and 30.

Causes of agoraphobia

Learning and other experiences

There are several factors that can influence the development of agoraphobia, such as:

– Anxiety or nervous temperament.

– Learning experiences.

– Presence of panic disorder or other phobias.

– Severe fear or avoidance reactions in panic attacks.

– Experiencing stressful events such as assault, abuse, or death of a parent.

– Having a blood relative with agoraphobia.

– Abuse of drugs or alcohol.

– Other psychiatric disorders.

Agoraphobes fear not being able to escape or find help during a panic attack, and experiencing disabling or embarrassing symptoms.

Types of agoraphobia are as follows:

– Panic disorder with agoraphobia.

– Agoraphobia without a history of panic disorder.

– Panic disorder without agoraphobia.

Symptoms of agoraphobia

Disproportionate fear or anxiety

Agoraphobics may experience anticipatory anxiety and develop defensive and avoidant behavior:

– Going out alone.

– Crowds or waiting in line.

– Confined spaces, such as movie theaters, elevators, or small stores.

– Open spaces such as busy streets, parking lots, bridges, or trains.

– Use of public transportation.

– Have significant problems or distress at work, in social situations, or in moments and situations that cause disproportionate fear or anxiety.

Diagnosing Agoraphobia

Interview

The disorder must be at least six months old, and may require several conversations with a mental health professional to assess symptoms, as well as a physical exam and other tests such as blood tests or imaging studies to rule out other causes before a diagnosis is made.

The psychiatrist may ask to speak to people close to the patient, such as family and friends, to find out about changes in behavior and obsessions, such as avoidance of driving, going to the movies, theaters, supermarkets, department stores, using the elevator, public transportation, being outside the home, playing sports, participating in discussions, dancing..

Attention will also be paid to protective behaviors, such as the requirement to always accompany a trusted person, an animal, carry calming items, smoke, drink, shop at certain times, or always keep an eye on the clinic or hospital.

Treatment and medications for agoraphobia

Psychotherapy and medication treatment

Treatment of agoraphobia is a long process. Includes a psychotherapy program that, in addition to understanding the factors that lead to crises, often includes confrontational therapy to address and tolerate the symptoms that cause them. The goal is to gradually reduce anxiety and achieve desensitization by safely confronting, without fear or anxiety, the places and situations that have provoked seizures.

In addition to psychotherapy, antidepressants such as fluoxetine and sertraline and, in limited cases, benzodiazepines as sedatives are usually prescribed.

Preventing agoraphobia

Without prophylaxis

There are no specific measures to prevent agoraphobia, but if you experience irrational fears or severe anxiety in certain situations, it is advisable to see a specialist as soon as possible.