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Agoraphobia

Until recently agoraphobia was defined as a fear of open spaces. It now also includes several other related fears such as a fear of entering shops, fear of crowds and public places, or of travelling alone on trains, buses or aeroplanes. It also includes the anxiety associated with being unable to reach a place of safety (eg home) quickly.

Panic attacks are a common feature of agoraphobia. A panic attack is an unpredictable attack of intense fear and anxiety. Because panic attacks can be unpredictable, people often worry about them happening when they have to go into a public place. This can cause the person to start avoiding any situation where a panic attack might happen.

In extreme cases, people with agoraphobia may be unable to leave their home unless accompanied by another trusted person.

Agoraphobia usually begins in the late 20s and is more common in women than men, (although that may be because fewer men seek help).

Approximately 5% of adults develop agoraphobia. Agoraphobia sometimes starts suddenly and sometimes it develops slowly. Often there is no obvious cause. Without treatment, agoraphobia can continue for years and may become more severe with time.

Many agoraphobics have other phobias too (see article on phobias). This is described as a complex phobia.