If you break down the word agoraphobia, you can quickly see what it means. A phobia is a fear of something. Agora comes from the Greek language, and refers to a place where people meet, or more specifically a marketplace. So this is the fear of being in crowded or open spaces.
Sometimes, agoraphobia is thought of as the fear of being out in the open, but that isn't strictly correct. People suffering from this condition are more often fearful of places where they are crowded in, where getting away would be difficult. A person may be reluctant to leave the house, but it is usually not simply being outdoors that frightens him or her.
Situations such as being in a crowded building, a long hallway, a large, exposed place, or any unfamiliar territory can be intensely disturbing to someone with agoraphobia. This fear is most associated with being unable to get to a safe location, or the feeling of being exposed and unprotected. A return to familiar territory may relieve the symptoms of an phobia-related panic attack.
Symptoms of agoraphobia can range from mild feelings of discomfort or anxiety in large, crowded spaces, to intense fear and panic attacks. Agoraphobia is actually diagnosed differently according to whether the patient experiences panic disorders or not. In fact, many different psychological disorders, such as social phobia, separation anxiety disorder, and depression, can share symptoms with this condition. A professional diagnosis is required to determine whether a person has agoraphobia or not.
There are several possible treatments for patients with agoraphobia. If other disorders contribute to the condition, or compound it, these can be treated separately. Helping patients to take control of their fear by slowly exposing them to environments which may cause them fear and anxiety can decrease the symptoms.
Patients can determine which situations trigger their agoraphobia, and make an effort to overcome these fears. By slowly dealing with each situation in a way that feels safe, the patient can learn to deal with their fears and face them rather than allowing the fear to control them. A patient who is afraid of shopping malls might start by visiting a small corner store until he or she feels comfortable. Once a small step is overcome, the patient will be ready to try to push his or her comfort zone a little further. A medical or mental health professional will be able to help design a program, and provide advice and medication if necessary.