What Are the Symptoms of Agoraphobia?

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Agoraphobia typically presents as overwhelming anxiety that is irrational and inappropriate for the circumstances—usually when the person attempts to leave home or even thinks of doing so. This article discusses the specific symptoms and signs of agoraphobia that clinicians use to diagnose the disorder.

What Is Agoraphobia?

Agoraphobia—derived from the Latin "fear of the marketplace"—is a type of anxiety disorder. It arises from an acute, persistent fear of being somewhere that's difficult or impossible to escape from or of experiencing an embarrassing event in a public place. Many people with agoraphobia fear simply leaving home. About 1.3% of U.S. adults experience agoraphobia at some point.

According to The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), agoraphobia is frequently diagnosed along with panic and other anxiety disorders.

Agoraphobia Symptoms and Signs

Agoraphobia can look and feel like other forms of anxiety and panic attacks. DSM-V outlines the specific symptoms and signs that differentiate it from these other conditions.

Symptoms and signs are not the same. Signs are objective; they're observable and measurable. Symptoms are subjective; only the affected person can sense them.

Symptoms

Those who have agoraphobia may fear experiencing something embarrassing in public, such as a panic attack itself, a fall, or incontinence, and they may avoid crowded or public places. Other symptoms include:

  • Feeling hot
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Faintness
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Fear of leaving home
  • Anxiety and nervousness

Those with agoraphobia often feel critical of or disappointed in themselves and have low self-esteem, especially if they want to participate in activities or go to places but are inhibited by their phobia.

Signs

If you're with a person who has agoraphobia, you might notice these signs:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Trembling
  • Fast breathing
  • Other physical signs of anxiety or panic attacks

Diagnosis

Agoraphobia is often misunderstood as being primarily a problem in which people are afraid to leave their houses, but it can extend to other situations. According to DSM-V, people with agoraphobia have a "marked fear" about two or more of the following scenarios:

  • Public transportation
  • Open spaces
  • Enclosed spaces (such as stores)
  • Standing in line or being in a crowd
  • Being outside the home by themselves

The diagnostic criteria for agoraphobia stipulate that the person's anxious feelings must be disproportionate to or inappropriate for the situation—an irrational fear. In addition, the symptoms must persist at least six months.

Avoidant behavior is another part of the diagnostic picture. A person with avoidant behavior steers clear of the object or situation they fear as well as anything they associate with that fear. Living with restrictions on what they do, where they go, and who they interact with are common for someone experiencing agoraphobia and severely impedes their ability to live a productive, active life.

Though symptoms and signs of agoraphobia and panic disorder can be similar and often overlap, agoraphobia is a separate diagnosis. Agoraphobia may entail features of panic disorder, but not all panic disorders include agoraphobia. You don't have to be diagnosed with panic disorder to be diagnosed with agoraphobia. And even if you don't have panic disorder, you may still have panic attacks associated with agoraphobia.

A Word From Verywell

Not all phobias need treatment. But if a phobia affects your daily life, therapies are available to help you overcome your fears—often permanently. It's important to address other mental health effects produced by agoraphobia, too. For example, be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression. Remember that you deserve to feel comfortable performing your everyday activities without disruption. If you experience agoraphobia or related symptoms, express your concerns promptly to a healthcare professional.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is agoraphobia an anxiety disorder?

    Agoraphobia—in Latin, "fear of the marketplace"—is a type of anxiety disorder. Its hallmark is an acute, persistent fear of being somewhere that's difficult or impossible to escape from or of experiencing an embarrassing event in a public place

  • How long do symptoms have to be present to diagnose agoraphobia?

    Signs and symptoms of agoraphobia must be present for at least six months to meet the diagnostic criteria for the condition, according to the DSM-V. These often lead to avoidant behaviors that negatively affect daily life.

  • What causes agoraphobia?

    No one knows for sure, but certain risk factors may increase your risk. These include:

    • Having another anxiety disorder or phobia
    • A family history of agoraphobia
    • Abuse or trauma
    • Brain chemistry
    • Learned associations

    In addition, experiencing a panic attack in a certain situation or setting can lead to a fear that it will recur in the future.


  • How can I help someone with agoraphobia?

    Learn all you can about the condition. Try to remain patient and understanding as the person learns to cope. Don't force a particular approach or viewpoint, and understand that the person is not being weak or manipulative if they can do something one day but not the next.

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4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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