What is life with agoraphobia like?

Written by: Dr Alberto Pertusa
Edited by: Top Doctors®

For the average person, crowded places and certain situations can definitely be uncomfortable. Not all of us like the hustle and bustle, and the thought of sharing a space with hundreds of people can certainly be a worry. However, in those with agoraphobia, this fear becomes extreme, and can severely affect their daily life. Dr Alberto Pertusa, expert psychiatrist, explains more.

What is agoraphobia?

Agoraphobia is a common form of anxiety, which people experience when anticipating certain situations. The situational fear varies from person to person, and some may fear open spaces, such as bridges, or marketplaces, while others may fear more closed off spaces such as buses, planes, or shopping centres and cinemas.

In someone who does not suffer from agoraphobia, fears can happen but they are usually fleeting and do not stay in the mind for long. However, in a person with agoraphobia, these fears are felt to the extent that they seriously affect day to day life. 

How does agoraphobia affect sufferers?

Agoraphobia can manifest in different ways – in anticipation, and also when the sufferer is confronted with the situation that they fear. They can experience panic, which is characterised by an increase in pulse, sweating, and nausea, and by breathing more quickly. These symptoms, to the sufferer, cause a real fear of physical harm, and they may even feel their symptoms are an indication of death.

In order to prevent these symptoms from happening, those with agoraphobia frequently avoid the situations which they dread. In milder cases, people may simply be able to manage their agoraphobia, and plan their lives around going out at quieter times of day, or specific routes to certain places. However, in those with more severe agoraphobia, the fear is such that they do not want to even leave their own home. This means they can be easily cut off from society, and family and friends.

This is a vicious cycle, as it means the more they avoid situations, they in turn will feel more helpless, which increases the fear they experience. 

Is there a treatment for agoraphobia?

With professional help, treatment can be sought. Many sufferers cannot be put into specific categories and simply diagnosed – it is important to understand why the patient experiences fear and panic, but what is most important is understanding the root of the problem and allowing the patient to make clear plans and decisions that will help them cope with their day to day life with agoraphobia.

Of those who seek help, about 80% report that treatment and support has helped their agoraphobia to either disappear, or greatly improve. Seeing a specialist can significantly improve the chances of a sufferer being able to live a normal, panic-free life. 

By Dr Alberto Pertusa

Dr Alberto Pertusa is one of London's leading psychiatrists and is known for his biological and cognitive-behavioural approach to mental health. He sees mental health problems emerging from a combination of factors including biology, genetics, upbringing, lifestyle, psychological tendencies and our environment. He believes in promoting a healthy style of living and providing psycho-education as a way to help the person understand and be better able to deal with their psychological, emotional or mental health problems.

Dr Pertusa has extensive experience in using medication to treat mental health problems. However, in most cases he also explores other options, including psycho-education, talking therapy or lifestyle changes (among others) before considering starting a new medication. He endeavours to empower his patients to be part of the decision-making process regarding the best medication and treatment plan, by discussing the various options including any potential side effects of the medications he suggests.

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