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The word agoraphobia is derived from Greek words literally meaning "fear of the marketplace." The term is used to describe an irrational and often disabling fear of being out in public.


Agoraphobia is just one type of phobia, or irrational fear. People with phobias feel dread or panic when they face certain objects, situations, or activities. People with agoraphobia frequently also experience panic attacks, but panic attacks, or panic disorder, are not a requirement for a diagnosis of agoraphobia. The defining feature of agoraphobia is anxiety about being in places from which escape might be embarrasing or difficult, or in which help might be unavailable. The person suffering from agoraphobia usually avoids the anxiety-provoking situation and may become totally housebound.

Causes and symptoms

Agoraphobia is the most common type of phobia, and it is estimated to affect between 5-12% of Americans within their lifetime. Agoraphobia is twice as common in women as in men and usually strikes between the ages of 15-35.
The symptoms of the panic attacks which may accompany agoraphobia vary from person to person, and may include trembling, sweating, heart palpitations (a feeling of the heart pounding against the chest), jitters, fatigue, tingling in the hands and feet, nausea, a rapid pulse or breathing rate, and a sense of impending doom.

Key terms

Benzodiazepines — A group of tranquilizers often used to treat anxiety.
Desensitization — A treatment for phobias which involves exposing the phobic person to the feared situation. It is often used in conjunction with relaxation techniques.
Phobia — An intense and irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation.
Agoraphobia and other phobias are thought to be the result of a number of physical and environmental factors. For instance, they have been associated with biochemical imbalances, especially related to certain neurotransmitters (chemical nerve messengers) in the brain. People who have a panic attack in a given situation (e.g., a shopping mall) may begin to associate the panic with that situation and learn to avoid it. According to some theories, irrational anxiety results from unresolved emotional conflicts. All of these factors may play a role to varying extents in different cases of agoraphobia.


People who suffer from panic attacks should discuss the problem with a physician. The doctor can diagnose the underlying panic or anxiety disorder and make sure the symptoms aren't related to some other underlying medical condition.
The doctor makes the diagnosis of agoraphobia based primarily on the patient's description of his or her symptoms. The person with agoraphobia experiences anxiety in situations where escape is difficult or help is unavailable-or in certain situations, such as being alone. While many people are somewhat apprehensive in these situations, the hallmark of agoraphobia is that a person's active avoidance of the feared situation impairs his or her ability to work, socialize, or otherwise function.


Treatment for agoraphobia usually consists of both medication and psychotherapy. Usually, patients can benefit from certain antidepressants, such as amitriptyline (Elavil), or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, such as paroxetine (Paxil), fluoxetine (Prozac), or sertraline (Zoloft). In addition, patients may manage panic attacks in progress with certain tranquilizers called benzodiazepines, such as alprazolam (Xanax) or clonazepam (Klonipin).
The mainstay of treatment for agoraphobia and other phobias is cognitive behavioral therapy. A specific technique that is often employed is called desensitization. The patient is gradually exposed to the situation that usually triggers fear and avoidance, and, with the help of breathing or relaxation techniques, learns to cope with the situation. This helps break the mental connection between the situation and the fear, anxiety, or panic. Patients may also benefit from psychodynamically oriented psychotherapy, discussing underlying emotional conflicts with a therapist or support group.


With proper medication and psychotherapy, 90% of patients will find significant improvement in their symptoms.



Forsyth, Sondra. "I Panic When I'm Alone." Mademoiselle April 1998: 119-24.


American Psychiatric Association. 1400 K Street NW, Washington DC 20005. (888) 357-7924.
Anxiety Disorders Association of America. 11900 Park Lawn Drive, Ste. 100, Rockville, MD 20852. (800) 545-7367.
National Institute of Mental Health. Mental Health Public Inquiries, 5600 Fishers Lane, Room 15C-05, Rockville, MD 20857. (888) 826-9438.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


an anxiety disorder characterized by intense, irrational fear of open spaces, especially a marked fear of being alone or of being in public places where escape would be difficult or help might be unavailable. It may be associated with panic attacks (see panic disorder) or may occur independently (officially called agoraphobia without history of panic disorder).
agoraphobia without history of panic disorder agoraphobia with fear of having an attack of one or only a few incapacitating or embarrassing symptoms, which the person may or may not have had in the past, rather than a full panic attack.
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.


(ag'ōr-ă-fō'bē-ă), Avoid the mispronunciation agor'aphobia. Do not confuse this word with acarophobia or acrophobia.
A mental disorder characterized by an irrational fear of leaving the familiar setting of home, or venturing into the open, so pervasive that a large number of external life situations are entered into reluctantly or are avoided; often associated with panic attacks.
[G. agora, marketplace, + phobos, fear]
Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary © Farlex 2012


(ə-gôr′ə-fō′bē-ə, ăg′ər-ə-)
An anxiety disorder characterized by intense fear or anxiety about being in open or public places.

a·gor′a·phobe′ n.
a·gor′a·pho′bi·ac′ (-ăk′) n.
a·gor′a·pho′bic adj. & n.
The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2007, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.


Morbid fear of open spaces, crowded public places (markets, malls, crowds) or leaving home. Agoraphobia differs from phobic states which are more limited and are evoked by a specific palette of situations. It is characterised by generalised anxiety and is associated with panic attacks. It has an early adult onset, 2:1 female:male ratio, often arises in an abnormal physiologic and psychologic substrate and responds poorly to therapy.
Segen's Medical Dictionary. © 2012 Farlex, Inc. All rights reserved.


Psychology Fear of open spaces or of being in crowded, public places like markets; fear of leaving a safe place. See Phobia. Cf Monophobia, PAD syndrome.
McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


A mental disorder characterized by an irrational fear of leaving the familiar setting of home, or venturing into the open; often associated with panic attacks.
[G. agora, marketplace, + phobos, fear]
Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing © Farlex 2012


An abnormal fear of open spaces or of being alone or in public places. Agoraphobia may be so severe that the sufferer refuses to leave his or her own home and becomes permanently house-bound. It is the commonest of the phobias. The term derives from the Greek agora , an open assembly place or market and phobia , fear or horror.
Collins Dictionary of Medicine © Robert M. Youngson 2004, 2005


Mental disorder characterized by irrational fear of leaving the familiar setting of home or venturing into the open.
[G. agora, marketplace, + phobos, fear]
Medical Dictionary for the Dental Professions © Farlex 2012
References in periodicals archive ?
Starting at the bottom of Maslow's pyramid, modern digitally-friendly agoraphobes can purchase most items to sustain themselves physically online without leaving home.
Roy (Nicolas Cage) is a most unlikely con man - an obsessive, chain-smoking agoraphobe with various nervous tics.
An agoraphobe harboring a pathological need for companionship meets a sociopath incapable of forming relationships in Marcus Lenz's darkly disturbing feature debut "Close." Set in a nighttime world of empty spaces and fraught silences, pic's vision of two loners trapped in their own psychoses benefits from unpretentious lensing and the cream of Germany's up-and-coming thesps.
Except that the director in question is that famed agoraphobe, Terry Malick.
It's a family trait: Her daughter Bertha (a wonderfully unnerved Kristine Nielsen) is an agoraphobe; her psychiatrist son Oliver (John Vickery) is a secret mischief-maker from afar; and her grandson Jules (Mark H.
Much of his stems from the sheer eccentricity of Cage's character, an intense agoraphobe with a frequently twitching left eye whose mania for cleanliness would make Felix Unger look like Oscar Madison.
In his examination of the development of agoraphobia in psychiatric discourses of the nineteenth century, David Trotter points out that one of the ways in which agoraphobes deal with the anxiety of open space is performance: "Putting on a show, one accompanies oneself across the open space" (466).