Agoraphobia, an oft misunderstood disability

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Imagine never being able to leave your home!

The recent news about Chantelle Parker overcoming her 4 year battle with agoraphobia to become Great Britain’s next ‘Miss Nottingham’ is a clear demonstration of the wonders will power, a caring support circle and professional therapy can achieve.

Chantelle, (then aged 19) started suffering from crippling panic attacks when out walking her dog or attempting to carry out routine errands. The panic attacks would always compel her to head to the one place she knew was safe, her home.

The crippling association between the outdoors and a sense of dread and panic is what agoraphobia is all about. The disease can be subtle in its manifestation; patients can describe a crippling fear of crowded rooms, a debilitating fear of being embarrassed etc. It isn’t necessarily a fear of open spaces.

agoraphobia

Classified as an anxiety disorder, the disability is almost always associated with some developing or pre-existing panic disorder, but in 1% to 7% of patients, the disability manifests all on its own.

Agoraphobia can show itself in many ways, but the main symptoms to look out for are the following:

  • Fear of spending time alone
  • Fear of being in crowded places
  • Fear of open spaces
  • Fear of being in places where escape might be hard, such as public transport and elevators
  • Fear of losing control in a public place
  • Fear of death

Right now, medical science is not 100% sure about where this disease comes from. There are some genetic correlations. The same neuro-chemical imbalances that lead to anxiety disorders can also play a role in the manifestation of agoraphobia.

The genetic linkage is a relatively recent discovery. Researchers from the University of Missouri and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have shown that a special combination of genes referred to as the 5-HTTLPR genotype are more likely to suffer from high levels of social anxiety. People with this gene combination have also been shown to be less likely to engage in social behaviors that the average person would find completely normal.

If there is any suspicion that you might be suffering from this disorder, try and look back at your past experiences and see if you have suffered from the following emotions:

  • Detachment from others
  • Helplessness
  • Agitation
  • Loss of control
  • Feeling as though your own body is not real
  • Feeling as though your environment is not real

Diagnosis of agoraphobia: is pretty specific. If a patient displays or suffers from extreme anxiety or fear in at least 2 of the following situations, then the diagnosis has to be considered.
Fear or anxiety:

  • On public transportation
  • In an open space
  • In an enclosed space
  • In a crowd or queue
  • When out of home alone

Management of agoraphobia: revolves around a combination of medication and psychotherapy. The main medications that are used here are Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs).

Psychotherapy revolves around Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

If you suspect that you or someone you know is suffering from this in silence. Try and encourage them to seek the help of a professional psychiatrist. Show them that there is no judgment or stigma and that it’s a disease, just like the flu or heart disease, and help them seek the treatment they need to live a happier and healthier life, amongst friends and loved ones in the great outdoors.

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