Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Rhianna McClymont

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder that causes people to fear situations where it's difficult to escape or get help if things go wrong. Learn more about the causes, symptoms and what treatment is available.

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:

  • Trapped

  • Helpless

  • Embarrassed

  • Afraid

  • Panicked

Someone with agoraphobia may be afraid of:

  • Using public transport

  • Going to a shopping centre

  • Leaving home

  • 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

  • Cognitive (psychological)

  • Behavioural

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

  • Nausea

  • Chest pain or tightness in the chest

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Needing to go to the toilet a lot

  • Trembling

  • 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

  • Depression

  • Low self-esteem

  • 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?

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Rhianna McClymont, Lead GP at Livi