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Why are you Agoraphobic?

written by: Nicky LaMarco • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 6/2/2011

A person suffering from this debilitating condition is frightened of having a panic attack that will be witnessed by a lot of people, and that they will be unable to control themselves.

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    Types of Agoraphobia

    There are two types of agoraphobia, one coupled with panic disorder and one without. Sufferers of agoraphobia without panic disorder become frightened and think that they will have a panic attack; whereas those with panic disorder have experienced panic attacks in public in the past. Agoraphobia without panic disorder can easily morph into the other if the person begins having panic attacks. There are several possible causes of agoraphobia.

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    Genetic

    One theorized cause of agoraphobia is the family tree. A 2001 study at Yale University found a link: human chromosome 3 was found to have a genetic locus that increased a person’s chance of developing an anxiety disorder, which is what agoraphobia is. Panic disorder is associated with two loci on two separate chromosomes - chromosomes 11 and 1. This could explain why agoraphobia can develop in someone with a family history of anxiety disorders.

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    Trauma

    Another cause of agoraphobia could be a traumatic life event. Nearly 50 percent of diagnosed patients have a history of actual or feared separation in their childhoods. Usually death of a loved one is the strongest trigger for this type of traumatic cause. The trauma causes anxiety, stress and worry. Those feelings become stronger and fear begins to take its hold. Soon panic attacks become a regular occurrence and agoraphobia develops.

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    Physiological

    Personal or familial history of respiratory disease could be a cause. The idea is that if breathing is difficult and a patient feels like they are being suffocated then this could lead to a panic disorder, which could in turn morph into agoraphobia. A child may learn that going outside triggers an asthma attack, for example, and develops this condition after that.

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    Behavioral conditioning

    A fifth cause may be prior experience. Let’s say a sufferer has panic-like reactions in a certain situation, like sitting on an airplane. This could lead the person to associate sitting on any airplane with those feelings and not simply that specific situation and time. After the initial time the patient may avoid being on a plane again so they are unable to test out their theory that the airplane is the cause.

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    Nature

    A person’s natural temperament may be a cause of agoraphobia. Children who seem overly sensitive to their surroundings are candidates, especially children suffering from “behavioral inhibition" or in other words a certain set of mostly negative behaviors when the child is confronted with a new situation.

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    Causes

    Any one of these (or more than one) could be the cause of this medical condition. The important thing to remember here is that anxiety disorders are treatable. Agoraphobia is a serious medical condition and there are plenty of treatments out there.

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    Resources

    "Agoraphobia", published by the Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/agoraphobia/DS00894/DSECTION=causes

    "Definition of Agoraphobia", published by the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders: http://www.minddisorders.com/A-Br/Agoraphobia.html

    "What is Agoraphobia? What Causes Agoraphobia?", published by Medical News Today: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/162169.php

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