Fear or phobia? Find out the difference between the two and the treatment options that can help you overcome them.

Media last reviewed: 11/01/2013

Next review due: 11/01/2015

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Agoraphobia is a fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult, or help wouldn't be available if things go wrong.

Many people assume that agoraphobia is simply a fear of open spaces but it is more complex than that. A person with agoraphobia may be scared of:

  • travelling on public transport
  • visiting a shopping centre
  • leaving home

If people with agoraphobia find themselves in a stressful situation they usually experience symptoms of a panic attack, such as:

  • rapid heartbeat
  • rapid breathing (hyperventilating)
  • feeling hot and sweaty
  • feeling sick

They avoid situations that cause anxiety and may only leave the house with a friend or partner, or order groceries online rather than go to the supermarket. This change in behaviour is known as avoidance.

Read more about the symptoms of agoraphobia.

Treating agoraphobia

Initial treatments can include a self-help programme guided by your GP, which is designed to help overcome phobias.

The next step is more complex treatments, including:

Read more about the treatment of agoraphobia.

What causes agoraphobia?

Agoraphobia usually develops as a complication of panic disorder (an anxiety disorder in which you have panic attacks and moments of intense fear). It may arise as a result of associating panic attacks with places or situations where the attacks occurred, and then avoiding them.

A minority of people with agoraphobia have no history of panic attacks. In these cases, their fear may be related to issues such as a fear of crime, terrorism, illness or being in an accident.

Traumatic events such as bereavement may contribute towards agoraphobia, as well as certain genes a person inherits from their parents.

Read more about possible causes of agoraphobia.

Who is affected

In the UK, up to two people in 100 have a panic disorder and it is thought around a third of those will go on to develop agoraphobia as a result.

Agoraphobia is twice as common in women as men, and the condition usually starts between the ages of 18 and 35.


Around a third of people eventually achieve a complete cure and remain free from symptoms.

Around half experience an improvement in symptoms but they may have periods when symptoms become more troublesome; for example if they feel stressed.

And one-in-five people will continue to have troublesome symptoms, despite treatment. 

Page last reviewed: 24/05/2012

Next review due: 24/05/2014


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The 1 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

UKman81 said on 25 August 2013

i think ive been suffering with this for 3 years, its been 3 years since ive last been outside into the public(most ive been is on my doorstep,i was supposed to go on a family break tommorow and first felt like i could overcome this but today im a bag of nerves and feel sick, ive yet to seek help

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Claire's story: 'I beat agoraphobia'

How Claire Ledger, 26, overcame panic attacks caused by agoraphobia (fear of public spaces)