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Definition, Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

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Definition, Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Postby Butterfly Faerie » Sat Aug 26, 2006 6:57 pm

Definition
The term agoraphobia is translated from Greek as "fear of the marketplace." Agoraphobia today describes severe and pervasive anxiety about being in situations from which escape might be difficult or embarrassing and, or, from which help might not be available should a panic attack occur. This anxiety leads to the following behavior:

Avoidance of these types of situations, such as being alone outside of the home, traveling in a car, bus, or airplane, being in a crowded area, or being on a bridge.
Endurance of such situations under great stress, such as a panic attack may occur.
Requiring another person's company when in said situations.
Agoraphobia typically accompanies a panic disorder although on rare occasions, it may also occur when criteria of a panic disorder are not fully met. In panic disorder, panic attacks recur and the person develops an intense apprehension of having another attack. This fear -- called anticipatory anxiety or fear of fear -- can be present most of the time and seriously interfere with the person's life even when a panic attack is not in progress. In addition, the person may develop irrational fears called phobias, such as agoraphobia, about situations where a panic attack has occurred. If agoraphobia occurs with panic disorder, the onset is usually during the 20s, and women are affected more often than men.

Agoraphobia affects about a third of all people with panic disorder. Typically, people with agoraphobia restrict themselves to a "zone of safety" that may include only the home or the immediate neighborhood. Any movement beyond the edges of this zone creates mounting anxiety. As noted earlier, sometimes a person with agoraphobia is unable to leave home alone, but can travel if accompanied by a particular family member or friend. Even when they restrict themselves to "safe" situations, most people with agoraphobia continue to have panic attacks at least a few times a month.

People with agoraphobia can be seriously disabled by their condition. Some are unable to work, and they may need to rely heavily on other family members, who must do the shopping and household errands, as well as accompany the affected person on rare excursions outside the "safety zone." People with this disorder may become housebound for years, with resulting impairment of social and interpersonal relationships. Thus the person with agoraphobia typically leads a life of extreme dependency as well as great discomfort.




Symptoms
Fear of being alone
Fear of losing control in a public place
Fear of being in places where escape might be difficult
Becoming house bound for prolonged periods
Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others
Feelings of helplessness
Dependence upon others
Feeling that the body is unreal
Feeling that the environment is unreal
Anxiety or panic attack (acute severe anxiety)
Unusual temper or agitation with trembling or twitching

Additional symptoms that may occur:

Lightheadedness, near fainting
Dizziness
Excessive sweating
Skin flushing
Breathing difficulty
Chest pain
Heartbeat sensations
Nausea and vomiting
Numbness and tingling
Abdominal distress
Confused or disordered thoughts
Intense fear of going crazy
Intense fear of dying

There may be a history of phobias, or the health care provider may receive a description of typical behaviors from family, friends, or the affected person. The pulse (heart rate) is often rapid, sweating is present, and the patient may have high blood pressure. A person may be described as having agoraphobia if other mental disorders or medical conditions do not provide better explanation for the person's symptoms.




Causes
The etiology of most anxiety disorders, although not fully understood, has come into sharper focus in the last decade. In broad terms, the likelihood of developing anxiety involves a combination of life experiences, psychological traits, and, or, genetic factors. The anxiety disorders are so heterogeneous that the relative roles of these factors are likely to differ. It is not clear why females have higher rates than males of most anxiety disorders, although some theories have suggested a role for the gonadal steroids. Other research on women's responses to stress also suggests that women experience a wider range of life events (such as those happening to friends) as stressful as compared with men who react to a more limited range of stressful events, specifically those affecting themselves or close family members.



Treatment
The goal of treatment is to help the phobic person function effectively. The success of treatment usually depends upon the severity of the phobia. Systematic desensitization or graded real-life exposure, called "exposure therapy," is a behavioral technique used to treat phobias. It is based on having the person relax, then imagine the components of the phobia, working from the least fearful to the most fearful. The individual will work with a therapist to develop coping strategies such as relaxation and breathing techniques. While "in vivo" or real-life exposure is ideal, imagined exposure is also an acceptable alternative in desensitization exercises. Treating agoraphobia with exposure therapy reduced anxiety and improved morale and quality of life with in 75 percent of cases.

Other types of therapy, such as cognitive therapy, assertiveness training, biofeedback, hypnosis, meditation, relaxation, or couples therapy were found to be helpful for some patients. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a combination of cognitive therapy, which can modify or eliminate thought patterns contributing to the patient's symptoms, and behavioral therapy, which aims to help the patient change his or her behavior.

Treatment is complicated by the fact that patients have difficulty getting to appointments because of their fears. To address this issue, some therapists will go to an agoraphobic patient's home to conduct the initial sessions. Often therapists take their patients on excursions to shopping malls and other places the patients have been avoiding. Or they may accompany their patients who are trying to overcome fear of driving a car, for example.

The patient approaches a feared situation gradually, attempting to stay in spite of rising levels of anxiety. In this way the patient sees that as frightening as the feelings are, they are not dangerous, and they do pass. On each attempt, the patient faces as much fear as he or she can stand. Patients find that with this step-by-step approach, aided by encouragement and skilled advice from the therapist, they can gradually master their fears and enter situations that had seemed unapproachable.

Many therapists assign the patient "homework" to do between sessions. Sometimes patients spend only a few sessions in one-on-one contact with a therapist and continue to work on their own with the aid of a printed manual.

Often the patient will join a therapy group with others striving to overcome panic disorder or phobias, meeting with them weekly to discuss progress, exchange encouragement, and receive guidance from the therapist.

Cognitive behavioral therapy generally requires at least 8 to 12 weeks. Some people may need a longer time in treatment to learn and implement the skills. This kind of therapy, which is reported to have a low relapse rate, is effective in eliminating panic attacks or reducing their frequency. It also reduces anticipatory anxiety and the avoidance of feared situations.


Treatment with Medications

In this treatment approach, which is also called pharmacotherapy, a prescription medication is used both to prevent panic attacks or reduce their frequency and severity, and to decrease the associated anticipatory anxiety. When patients find that their panic attacks are less frequent and severe, they are increasingly able to venture into situations that had been off-limits to them. In this way, they benefit from exposure to previously feared situations as well as from the medication.

The three groups of medications most commonly used are the tricyclic antidepressants, the high-potency benzodiazepines, and the monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). Determination of which drug to use is based on considerations of safety, efficacy, and the personal needs of the patient. Some information about each of the classes of drugs follows:

The tricyclic antidepressants were the first medications shown to have a beneficial effect against panic disorder. Imipramine is the tricyclic most commonly used for this condition. When imipramine is prescribed, the patient usually starts with small daily doses that are increased every few days until an effective dosage is reached. The slow introduction of imipramine helps minimize side effects such as dry mouth, constipation, and blurred vision. People with panic disorder, who are inclined to be hypervigilant about physical sensations, often find these side effects disturbing at the outset. Side effects usually fade after the patient has been on the medication a few weeks.

It usually takes several weeks for imipramine to have a beneficial effect on panic disorder. Most patients treated with imipramine will be panic-free within a few weeks or months. Treatment generally lasts from 6 to 12 months. Treatment for a shorter period of time is possible, but there is substantial risk that when imipramine is stopped, panic attacks will recur. Extending the period of treatment to 6 months to a year may reduce this risk of a relapse. When the treatment period is complete, the dosage of imipramine is tapered over a period of several weeks.

The high-potency benzodiazepines are a class of medications that effectively reduce anxiety. Alprazolam, clonazepam, and lorazepam are medications that belong to this class. They take effect rapidly, have few bothersome side effects, and are well tolerated by the majority of patients. However, some patients, especially those who have had problems with alcohol or drug dependency, may become dependent on benzodiazepines.

Generally, the physician prescribing one of these drugs starts the patient on a low dose and gradually increases it until panic attacks cease. This procedure minimizes side effects.

Treatment with high-potency benzodiazepines is usually continued for 6 months to a year. One drawback of these medications is that patients may experience withdrawal symptoms -- malaise, weakness, and other unpleasant effects -- when the treatment is discontinued. Reducing the dose gradually generally minimizes these problems. There may also be a recurrence of panic attacks after the medication is withdrawn.

Of the MAOIs, a class of antidepressants that have been shown to be effective against panic disorder, phenelzine is the most commonly used. Treatment with phenelzine usually starts with a relatively low daily dosage that is increased gradually until panic attacks cease or the patient reaches a maximum dosage of about 100 milligrams a day.

Use of phenelzine or any other MAOI requires the patient to observe exacting dietary restrictions, because there are foods and prescription drugs and certain substances of abuse that can interact with the MAOI to cause a sudden, dangerous rise in blood pressure. All patients who are taking MAOIs should obtain their physician's guidance concerning dietary restrictions and should consult with their physician before using any over-the-counter or prescription medications.

As in the case of the high-potency benzodiazepines and imipramine, treatment with phenelzine or another MAOI generally lasts 6 months to a year. At the conclusion of the treatment period, the medication is gradually tapered.

Newly available antidepressants such as fluoxetine (one of a class of new agents called serotonin reuptake inhibitors) appear to be effective in selected cases of panic disorder. As with other anti-panic medications, it is important to start with very small doses and gradually increase the dosage.

Scientists are seeking ways to improve drug treatment for panic disorder. Studies are underway to determine the optimal duration of treatment with medications, who they are most likely to help, and how to moderate problems associated with withdrawal.


Combination Treatments

Some patients with anxiety disorders may benefit from both psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy treatment modalities, either combined or used in sequence. The combined approach is said to offer rapid relief, high effectiveness, and a low relapse rate. Drawing from the experiences of depression researchers, it seems likely that such combinations are not uniformly necessary and are probably more cost-effective when reserved for patients with more complex, complicated, severe, or comorbid disorders. The benefits of multimodal therapies for anxiety need further study. Comparing medications and psychological treatments, and determining how well they work in combination, is the goal of several studies. One study is designed to determine how treatment with imipramine compares with a cognitive-behavioral approach, and whether combining the two yields benefits over either method alone.

Psychodynamic Treatment

This is a form of "talk therapy" in which the therapist and the patient seek to uncover emotional conflicts that may underlie the patient's problems. By talking about these conflicts and gaining a better understanding of them, the patient is helped to overcome the problems. Often, psychodynamic treatment focuses on events of the past and making the patient aware of the ramifications of long-buried problems.

Although psychodynamic approaches may help to relieve the stress that contributes to panic attacks, they do not seem to stop the attacks directly. In fact, there is no scientific evidence that this form of therapy by itself is effective in helping people to overcome panic disorder or agoraphobia. However, if a patient's panic disorder occurs along with some broader and pre-existing emotional disturbance, psychodynamic treatment may be a helpful addition to the overall treatment program.
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Postby MSBLUE » Sun Aug 27, 2006 2:48 am

very good imformation, thank you from all of us who suffer from this.
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Postby Butterfly Faerie » Sun Aug 27, 2006 4:10 am

You're welcome Ddee.
I came across an awsome site today with tons of info.
Since all the information thread were erased by accident when the board went down for that time I though i'd slowly start to post info again.
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Postby MSBLUE » Sun Aug 27, 2006 4:17 am

That was very generous of your time sadgurl.

I'm sure it will help alot of people who come here.
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Postby Butterfly Faerie » Sun Aug 27, 2006 4:19 am

Thanks ddee, that's why I want to do it.
Thanks Girl.
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Postby chris1978 » Sun Aug 12, 2007 6:25 am

I was always confused about this. I never thought it applied to me because although i am prone to a rare panic attack, i do not worry at all about having a panic attack nor do i have panic disorder. everything else is spot on. unable to work (proven and written concent from 3 pdocs, and i still get denied for SS, i doubt i will get turned down since i have gotten a lawyer. but yeah, agoraphobia, safe zones, houseband. the only thing i can do without medication is drive to my pdoc appts, then all i want to do is get back to my

safe zone. I quit my CBT class because the desensitization and relaxation just didn't work for for me. I really believe im just going to have to jump in head first. and repeat and repeat. it was like i was another person when i was on vacation because i was with 1 other person. having that person elimited all the intense phobias and restrictions. it was really incredible to experience it. I'm glad i

was able to get to the point of driving. I wouldn't mind using a non benzo though. If my lexapro produced the off label effects, my life would be completely turned around. This is seriously an embarrassing and restricting disorder. It lead to my unipolar depression, my panic disorder, my dysthymia, depersonalization disorder, and anhedonia. i hope im not leaving anything out. There were a few times wjere boredom was too much and i just drank myself up and found some people to hang out with. even drunk it's like a sense of clarity. thanks for clearing that up, i kinda feel bad for not trusting my doc. but my new one is a lot better.

can i blame the internet? i wasn't antisocial in high school...
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Postby oppor2nity » Sat Apr 26, 2008 2:39 am

Ty so very much. I had previously looked up information on what i was going through on the internet and until i came across the exact explanation of agoraphobia I wasn't even aware that it was what i had. But i fit the symptoms to the T. I can rarely even leave the home anymore and when i do i can't be without my safety items or i panic. It's a horrible and embarrassing disorder that i just wish would go away. Every night when i go to sleep i pray that the next day i will wake up and be normal again the way i used to be. I cant even work because i cant stay away from the house 15 minutes without the thought of panic crossing my mind and then i lose all control and cant breath or function normally. I know i need help but in order to do so i would have to be able to travel away from the home long enough to go see a doctor and even the thought of being away that long and possibly having another panic attack in public terrifies me. My family doesnt understand an they think i'm just being a lazy leach and that i dont want to get a job or get back on my own two feet. I just wish that there were someway for them to understand what i'm going through inside... :cry:
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