According to a literal definition, agoraphobia is the fear of being outside, in open spaces. However, it also marks situations that are perceived by the sufferer as without escape or humiliating. Agoraphobia often accompanies panic attacks, which makes it all the more difficult to diagnose. In fact, statistics show that phobias are generally under-reported due to the fact that the sufferer somehow manages to avoid the phobic situations.
There appears to be a genetic predisposition, since this psychological health problem is more frequent in families where there have been other similar cases of phobias. Psychologists consider that the problem develops as a consequence of a very intense internal conflict and after a repeated exposure to anxiety-provoking events. So far, no clear-cut theory fully explains agoraphobia, which holds true for almost all the mental health problems that pester modern man.
Diagnosis is often difficult, but it becomes possible when you show up at the doctor's office to deal with the symptoms that are affecting your social and work tasks. The GP usually refers patients with suspected mental health problems to a specialist for adequate diagnosis and targeted treatment. Be ready to answer a set of questions and don't hesitate to give the details of your situation no matter how unimportant they may seem to you.
Psychotherapy represents the long-term form of treatment, allowing the agoraphobia sufferer to overcome the fears, solve the inner conflicts and improve the quality of life. Psycho-behavioral therapy has so far given the best results in the treatment of phobias, and it works great in combination with prescribed medication or with self-exposure. Through self-exposure, the agoraphobia sufferer seeks the situations that trigger the phobic episode and tries to deal with the fear as well as with the difficulty of the moment.
The treatment of agoraphobia follows the general lines of that for other panic disorders. Thus, the doctor may prescribe drugs such as minor tranquilizers, serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) or beta-blocker medications. The pros and cons of the drug treatment need to be carefully evaluated by the specialist to make sure that the positive outcome of the treatment justifies the risk of side-effects.