What is agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia is a mental health condition described as a fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult or help would not be available if things go wrong.
Many people define agoraphobia as a fear of open spaces, but it's much more complex. If you have agoraphobia, you will usually avoid places or situations that make you feel:
Someone with agoraphobia may be afraid of:
Using public transport
Going to a shopping centre
Standing in a queue
Being in a crowded place
Being outside alone
What are the types of agoraphobia symptoms?
Agoraphobia symptoms differ from person to person. If you've got severe agoraphobia, you may find it a struggle to leave your house. But someone who has mild agoraphobia may be able to make short trips on public transport without any problems.
The symptoms of agoraphobia can be divided into three types:
Physical symptoms of agoraphobia
You may get the physical symptoms of agoraphobia in situations or places that make you feel anxious or stressed. The symptoms are similar to what you might experience in a panic attack and may include:
Fast heartbeat (tachycardia)
Rapid breathing (hyperventilating)
Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
Feeling hot and sweaty
Chest pain or tightness in the chest
Needing to go to the toilet a lot
Ringing in the ears
Some people with agoraphobia never get any physical symptoms because they go out of their way to avoid situations that give them anxiety.
Cognitive (psychological) symptoms of agoraphobia
Cognitive agoraphobia symptoms involve feelings or thoughts that relate to the physical symptoms, like:
Worrying that a panic attack will make you look stupid, feel embarrassed or lose control
Fear that a panic attack may be life-threatening
Fear that you're losing your sanity
Worrying that you won't be able to escape or find help during a panic attack
Fear that people will stare at you
Other psychological symptoms may include:
Feeling like you can't survive without the help of others
A feeling of anxiety or dread
Being scared to be left alone in your own home
Mistrust of others
How to treat agoraphobia
If your symptoms of agoraphobia are mild, lifestyle changes may help such as regular exercise, eating more healthily, and avoiding alcohol, drugs and caffeine.
There are also lots of self-help techniques that can help if you are feeling panicked, like deep breathing and focusing on something that's non-threatening and visible.
A GP may also recommend a type of psychological therapies, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
Sometimes medication may be prescribed, if other forms of treatment are not effective in controlling your symptoms. Usually this will be selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are used to treat anxiety and depression.
When to see a GP
Speak to a GP if you think you may be affected by agoraphobia. You can talk to a Livi doctor via video call.
The doctor will ask you to describe your symptoms and in what situations they occur. It's really important to tell them about how you're feeling to help you get the right support. They may ask you questions such as:
Do you find leaving the house stressful?
Do you avoid certain situations or places?
Do you have any strategies to help you cope with your symptoms, like asking others to shop for you?
- Reviewed by:
- Dr Rhianna McClymont, Lead GP at Livi