Agoraphobia is the fear of finding oneself outside one’s home in a public place. In ancient Greece, the agora was the public square where the people of the city met and talked. The word phobia means to him fears,
A person who suffers from agoraphobia may have difficulty crossing a bridge or staying in a crowd. Spending time in an enclosed area such as the subway or any other public transportation, hospital or movie theater can cause fear and anxiety in her home. Same for the plane or the mall. Waiting in a line or queuing at a store can be difficult for a person suffering from this disease. Not being at home can finally be a source of anxiety for agoraphobia.
Agoraphobia is often associated with panic disorder, which is an anxiety disorder that appears suddenly and triggers strong symptoms (tachycardia, sweating, dizziness, etc.). The person becomes extremely anxious. Anxiety arises from the fact that she is afraid of being locked up, of not being able to leave easily a closed or crowded place of people. Sometimes, after a panic disorder, the person can no longer attend the place of the previous crisis.
Agoraphobia can isolate people who suffer from it, some not leaving their homes, especially for fear of a crisis. This psychiatric illness is part of the neuroses. It can appear at any age and heal itself, even if treatment (based on psychotherapy and taking medication) is often long.
In general, a person becomes agoraphobic after having had one or more seizures panic in a given location. Fearing to suffer a new anxiety attack in a similar situation, she can no longer come out and face an enclosed space. She avoids the place to not suffer a new panic disorder, which can finally prevent her from leaving her home.
Prevalence. More than two out of 100 people would be affected by agoraphobia.
Causes. A life event or panic disorder can cause the appearance of agoraphobia.
The symptoms of agoraphobia (see section on symptoms) are usually clear enough to make a diagnosis quickly. There are diagnostic grids that allow, from different criteria, to confirm this diagnosis. These grids exist for different mental disorders.
When agoraphobia is severe, the person suffering from it may, in some cases, no longer be able to leave home. It is no longer a question for her to work or to have leisure. And that can last in time. Agoraphobia can therefore have very serious consequences. In addition, it can be associated with other mental illnesses or contribute to depression, alcoholism, taking drugs.
There are typical symptoms of agoraphobia that are:
- The panic attack (panic attack) during exposure to the distressing situation;
- Repetition of seizures during exposure to the distressing situation;
- The anticipated fear of a panic attack;
- Avoidance of distressing situations (leading to a limitation of social life or a retreat to oneself);
- Strategies to try to cope, like the need to be accompanied to go out.
The various fears may vary according to each agoraphobic person:
- Afraid of the crowd, or queues;
- Afraid to stay in an enclosed area;
- Afraid to be on a bridge, on a bus, a train or a car;
- Afraid of not being able to leave this closed place;
- Afraid to be alone outside his home;
- Fear of having an anxiety attack in a public place.
The signs of a panic disorder are:
- Accelerated heart rhythm, palpitations;
- Tremors or jerks, chills;
- Sweating, hot flashes;
- Difficulty breathing, feeling of breathlessness, choking;
- Chest pain or discomfort;
- Dizziness, feeling dizzy, empty-headed;
- Nausea, abdominal discomfort, diarrhea;
- Fear of dying, feeling of impending death;
- Afraid to go crazy.
Although all age groups may be concerned, agoraphobia usually appears in adulthood, most often before age 35. A study 1 suggested that the first crisis appeared on average at 27 years. An earlier onset does not mean, which is the case in other psychiatric illnesses, that the symptoms will be more severe. Women are more affected than men.
People with panic disorder are 30-50% also suffering from agoraphobia.
Risk factors. Being anxious or experiencing tragic events increases the risk of agoraphobia. Just like having a parent who suffers from this pathology.
It is difficult to prevent agoraphobia. However, it may be useful to manage the anxiety as soon as the first signs appear, to limit the risk of developing agoraphobia. This can go through the help of a mental illness professional.