Agoraphobia, meaning "fear of the marketplace" in Greek, is a type of anxiety disorder. It's a condition where a person feels intensely anxious about being trapped in certain situations (i.e., public places or places where crowds gather) from which they can't easily escape. The result is a feeling of panic.
Movie theatres, long lineups in banks or stores, and buses or subways are examples of problem places for people with agoraphobia. They often end up avoiding these situations or only go with someone they feel "safe" with. In extreme cases, they may end up housebound, terrified to go anywhere in public.
Agoraphobia affects 3.8% of women and 1.8% of men in any given 6-month period.
In many cases, agoraphobia develops after a person has experienced a panic attack. This involves feelings of intense, overwhelming terror along with physical symptoms such as sweating, dizziness, a pounding heart, and shortness of breath.
Although panic attacks are unpredictable, the person learns to avoid the situation that seemed to trigger the episode for fear of having another one. Others may just feel uncomfortable in agoraphobic situations without ever having had, or going on to have, panic attacks. A few will go on to develop full-blown panic disorder.
Agoraphobia is more common than panic disorder, which only affects about 1% of the population.
Agoraphobia can come on suddenly or develop gradually, typically between the ages of 18 and 35. It's an emotional and physical reaction to being put into a specific situation that triggers fear. Symptoms include:
Left untreated, agoraphobia tends to fluctuate in severity and can even disappear on its own. However, if the condition prevents you from working, socializing, or otherwise living a normal life, you should talk to a doctor to get the help you need.