Agoraphobia

Reviewed by Dr Keith Grimes, 29th July 2019

Agoraphobia is a term given to the fear of being out in an open space, feeling extremely anxious and unable to escape. Examples include shopping centres, public transport and leaving the house to go anywhere alone.

Causes

Sometimes a stressful life event (such as a bereavement or frightening event) will trigger agoraphobia, however there isn’t always an obvious cause.

Risk factors

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Having a relative with agoraphobia

Typical Symptoms

The common symptoms are not wanting to leave the house at all (or only if accompanied by someone) and feelings of anxiety.

The usual physical symptoms that happen as a result of the ‘fight, flight, freeze’ anxiety response include:

  • Palpitations (heart feeling like it is racing in your chest)
  • Hyperventilating (breathing a lot and very quickly)
  • Sweating
  • Nausea (feeling sick)
  • Pins and needles
  • Feeling light-headed or dizzy
  • Legs feeling weak/wobbly
  • Muscle tension
  • Stiffness

Both the physical and psychological effects of anxiety are incredibly distressing. Psychological symptoms and fears include:

  • Feeling like you might die
  • Avoiding situations that might cause you to feel anxious
  • Feeling very alert all the time or on-edge
  • An overwhelming feeling to run away and escape situations that make you anxious

Common Treatment

  • Self-help, such as online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or CBT books
  • Agoraphobia support groups
  • Avoidance of caffeine, alcohol and illicit drugs
  • Medication

When to speak to a doctor

Agoraphobia can often be initially managed via a digital consultation. If the GP decides you need a face to face appointment, they will discuss what steps you can take next.

To speak to one of our Babylon GPs, download the app and create an account today.

Occasionally, agoraphobia can get so bad that you think that life is not worth living or happens together with anxiety/depression and you might contemplate suicide. In such cases it is important to speak to a healthcare professional urgently.

If you're worried about acting on thoughts of suicide, you can call an ambulance, go straight to A&E or call the Samaritans for free on 116 123 to talk.

More information

MIND - https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/phobias/#.XKH1gxNKit9

NHS - https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/agoraphobia/