Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder that presents through extreme fear of situations where escape might be impeded or help unavailable if things go wrong. People with agoraphobia often avoid crowds, public transport, or being outside alone. In severe cases, people with agoraphobia may become housebound. Agoraphobia is thought to be caused by inherited and environmental factors. Treatment for agoraphobia usually entails a combination of anti-anxiety medication and exposure therapy, which helps people gradually confront their fears. With effective treatment, most people with agoraphobia can live normal, productive lives.
What is an anxiety disorder?
Anxiety disorders are manifested by persistent and intense fear of an impending threat, such as a natural disaster, severe accident, or death. Although anxiety is an emotion everyone feels every now and then, for those with anxiety disorder, fear can be so overwhelming that it interferes with daily life. As a result, patients may stop going to work or school or caring for a family member due to their anxiety disorder.
People with an anxiety disorder may avoid social situations that trigger their fears, making them feel isolated and alone. Those with an anxiety disorder may experience physical symptoms, such as a racing heart, sweating, difficulty sleeping, nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, and trembling.
There are various anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, specific phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder, and separation anxiety disorder.
So, is agoraphobia classed as an anxiety disorder?
Yes, agoraphobia is classified as an anxiety disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5).
This classification implies that it is the uncontrolled and unexpected panic attacks that occur in agoraphobia that lead to the behavior of avoiding certain situations and places. Those living with agoraphobia may isolate themselves at home as a consequence of this fear. For some, it can be such a debilitating condition that it can be classed as a disability.
And so, since the fear of being in a situation where escape might be difficult or where help might not be available causes significant anxiety, agoraphobia is classified as an anxiety disorder. The fear is not limited to one particular place but rather to situations that include:
- Open spaces
- Closed spaces
- Public transportation
- Crowded areas or queues
- Leaving home alone
When an accurate diagnosis of agoraphobia is made by mental health professionals, they note at least two feared situations from the above list. Therefore agoraphobia is different from social phobia or specific phobia, where the phobia is limited to one type of situation or object.
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