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by Wood D


The exact cause of anxiety disorders is not known. Factors that may contribute to the development of agoraphobia include:
  • Genetics
  • Changes in brain chemistry or activity
  • Having a nervous system that reacts excessively, even to normal stimuli
  • Increased awareness of physical changes, such as increased heart rate
  • Distorted thinking, which may start a cycle of fear
Agoraphobia often develops in people with panic disorders. These disorders are associated with frequent and severe panic attacks. Agoraphobia may develop when people begin to avoid certain places or situations to prevent these panic attacks.
Nervous System
female nervous system 3D
Changes or genetic problems in the nervous system (brain and nerves) may contribute to agoraphobia.
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Symptoms include:
Feared situations may trigger a panic attack. Attacks start quickly and peak in about 10 minutes. A panic attack usually includes four or more of the following:
  • Intense fear
  • Shaking
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Pounding or racing feeling in the chest
  • Sweating
  • Blushing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Hot flashes or chills
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Nausea
  • Feeling of loss of control or "going crazy"
  • Fear of having a heart attack or dying
Agoraphobia is also commonly associated with the following conditions:


Treatment aims to help you overcome irrational fears and live more independently. Goals include:
  • Reducing the number and severity of panic attacks
  • Learning to manage panic attacks that do occur

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive therapy can help to change troublesome thought patterns. Behavioral therapy will help you learn how you can alter your actions. The combination therapy will help you:
  • Identify and change anxious thoughts
  • Use relaxation techniques to decrease feelings of anxiety
  • Control breathing by taking slower, deeper breaths
  • Cope with physical changes associated with anxiety
  • Confront feared situations

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy exposes you to the factor causing the fear while in a safe environment. The sessions often include repeated, detailed imagining of the traumatic experience. The therapy will help people face their fear and gain control of it while it is happening. Exposure therapy methods range anywhere from a gradual approach to the fear to complete confrontation all at once.
Exposure therapy may be done alone or in combination with other treatments.


Your doctor may prescribe medication as well as therapy. Medication options may include:
  • Antidepressants
  • Benzodiazepines—may cause dependence
  • Other anti-anxiety medicines
It is important to take all medications as instructed by the doctor.

Lifestyle Changes

Stress management may also help. Lifestyle changes to manage stress include:
  • Get some exercise every day
  • Get adequate sleep
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine


American Psychiatric Association

Anxiety Disorders Association of America

Mental Health America



Canadian Mental Health Association

Mental Health Canada



Agoraphobia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated November 8, 2012. Accessed March 4, 2013.

Lenders JW, Eisenhofer G, et al. Phaeochromocytoma. Lancet. 2005;20-26;366:665-675.

Panic Disorder & Agoraphobia. Anxiety and Depression Association of America website. Available at: Accessed March 4, 2013.

Phobias. American Psychiatric Association website. Available at: Accessed March 4, 2013.

Phobias. Mental Health America website. Available at: Accessed March 4, 2013.

PTSD. American Psychiatric Association website. Available at: Accessed March 4, 2013.

Symptoms. Anxiety and Depression Association of America website. Available at: Accessed March 4, 2013.


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