What triggers agoraphobia?

Nia Coppack
Author: Nia Coppack Medical Reviewer: Dr. Leila Khurshid Last updated:

Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder in which a person experiences intense fear, or a panic attack, in situations that makes them feel trapped or helpless. This fear may be triggered by an actual or anticipated situation, such as using public transportation, being in a crowd, an enclosed area, or an open space. [1]

Agoraphobia triggers

Most people with agoraphobia develop it after experiencing one or more panic attacks. This causes them to worry about having another panic attack in a place where escape may be difficult, or help would be unavailable. The resulting and persistent anxiety can have a significant effect on their quality of life.

Agoraphobia causes feelings of helplessness and isolation as individuals start to avoid places or situations that remind them of past panic attacks.

People with agoraphobia may feel unsafe in public spaces and need a companion, such as a relative or friend, to accompany and support them. It may become so overwhelming that it is difficult for them to leave home.

Several different situations can trigger agoraphobia. The most common are listed below [2]:

  • Being in a crowd or busy area,especially those with high levels of noise, such as a sports stadium
  • Traveling on public transportation
  • Hyperventilation or over breathing
  • Being in an enclosed area such as an elevator, tunnel, car or public bathroom
  • Being in open spaces such as a parking lotor shopping center
  • Being too far from home
  • Any place where the individual previously felt anxiety

The main physical symptoms of agoraphobia that occur when an individual enters an uncomfortable or stressful situation include:

  • A rapid or increased heart rate
  • Rapid breathing or shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or pressure in the chest
  • Feelings of choking or difficulty swallowing
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Feeling hot or excessively sweating

Agoraphobia risk factors

Agoraphobia can appear at any age. However, it is most likely to manifest in late teens or early adult years [2]. There are a number of factors that can increase the risk of developing agoraphobia including: 

  • Genetic inheritance – having a family history of agoraphobia
  • Experiencing a traumaticevent during childhood, such as abuse or the death of a parent
  • Experiencing a stressful life event such as being attacked, getting divorced or suffering a bereavement
  • Having an anxious or nervous temperament and therefore responding to panic attacks with extreme fear and avoidance
  • Being in an unhappy or abusive relationship

Can any physical factors cause agoraphobia?

There are physical factors that can trigger agoraphobia, such as:

  • Having a panic disorder, post-traumatics tress disorder or experiencing panic attacks
  • Having other mental health difficulties such as another anxiety disorder, depression, anorexia nervosa, bulimia or other phobias
  • Issues with alcohol, drug or stimulant use
  • Having contracted an illness from a public place, like influenza or other viral infections [3]
  • General ill health
Resources
  1. Agoraphobia – Symptoms and Causes. (2017). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/agoraphobia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355987 
  2. Causes of Agoraphobia.(2021). CPD Online College. https://cpdonline.co.uk/knowledge-base/mental-health/causes-of-agoraphobia/ 
  3. What causes panic and agoraphobia. (2022). Overcoming. https://overcoming.co.uk/786/What-causes-Panic-and-Agoraphobia
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Nia Coppack
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Meet Nia Coppack, who serves as our talented writer. Nia is a mental health subject matter expert, writer, and mentor dedicated to empowering every reader we serve.

Published: Jan 10th 2023, Last edited: Jan 20th 2023

Dr. Leila Khurshid
Medical Reviewer Dr. Leila Khurshid PharmD, BCPS

Meet Dr. Leila Khursid, our accomplished medical reviewer who holds a Doctor of Pharmacy degree and completed a PGY1 Pharmacy Residency at St. Mark's Hospital.

Content reviewed by a medical professional. Last reviewed: Jan 10th 2023