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Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is a fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult or that help wouldn't be available if things go wrong.


In the UK, up to 2 people in 100 have panic disorder.

It's thought around a third will go on to develop agoraphobia.


Agoraphobia is twice as common in women as men. It usually starts between the ages of 18 and 35.



Many people assume agoraphobia is simply a fear of open spaces, but it's actually a more complex condition. Someone with agoraphobia may be scared of:

  • travelling on public transport

  • visiting a shopping centre

  • leaving home

If someone with agoraphobia finds themselves in a stressful situation, they'll usually experience the symptoms of a panic attack, such as:

  • rapid heartbeat

  • rapid breathing (hyperventilating)

  • feeling hot and sweaty

  • feeling sick

They'll avoid situations that cause anxiety and may only leave the house with a friend or partner. They'll order groceries online rather than going to the supermarket. This change in behaviour is known as avoidance.


What causes agoraphobia?

Agoraphobia usually develops as a complication of panic disorder, an anxiety disorder involving panic attacks and moments of intense fear. It can arise by associating panic attacks with the places or situations where they occurred and then avoiding them.

A minority of people with agoraphobia have no history of panic attacks.


In these cases, their fear may be related to issues like a fear of crime, terrorism, illness, or being in an accident.

Traumatic events, such as bereavement, may contribute towards agoraphobia, as well as certain genes inherited from your parents.



Treating agoraphobia

Lifestyle changes may help, including taking regular exercise, eating more healthily, and avoiding alcohol, drugs and drinks that contain caffeine, such as tea, coffee and cola.

Self-help techniques that can help during a panic attack include staying where you are, focusing on something that's non-threatening and visible, and slow, deep breathing.

If your agoraphobia fails to respond to these treatment methods see your GP.

You can also refer yourself directly for psychological therapies, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), without seeing your GP.


Medication may be recommended if self-help techniques and lifestyle changes aren't effective in controlling your symptoms. You'll usually be prescribed a course of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are also used to treat anxiety and depression.

In severe cases of agoraphobia, medication can be used in combination with other types of treatment, such as CBT and relaxation therapy.


Around a third of people with agoraphobia eventually achieve a complete cure and remain free from symptoms.

Around half experience an improvement in symptoms, but they may have periods when their symptoms become more troublesome – for example, if they feel stressed.

Despite treatment, about 1 in 5 people with agoraphobia continue to experience troublesome symptoms.

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