Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD
Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
In this Article
- What is agoraphobia?
- What causes agoraphobia?
- What are the symptoms of agoraphobia?
- What are the risk factors for agoraphobia?
- When should one seek medical care for agoraphobia?
- How is agoraphobia diagnosed?
- How is agoraphobia treated?
- What are the complications of agoraphobia?
- Is there coping and support information for both agoraphobia patients and their family members and loved ones?
- Agoraphobia At A Glance
- Find a local Psychiatrist in your town
How is agoraphobia treated?
There are a variety of treatments available for agoraphobia, including specific kinds of psychotherapy as well as several effective medications. A specific form of psychotherapy that focuses on decreasing negative, anxiety-provoking, or other self-defeating thoughts and behaviors (called cognitive behavioral therapy) has been found to be highly effective in treating agoraphobia. In fact, when agoraphobia occurs along with panic disorder, cognitive behavioral therapy, with or without treatment with medications, is considered to be the most effective way to both relieve symptoms and prevent their return. In fact, sometimes patients respond equally as well when treated with group cognitive behavioral therapy or a brief course of cognitive behavioral therapy as they do when treated with traditional cognitive therapy. Psychotherapy for agoraphobia has even been found to be effective for many people when they receive it over the Internet, which is optimistic news for people who live in areas that are hundreds of miles from the nearest mental-health professional.
Another form of therapy that has been found effective in managing agoraphobia includes self-exposure. In that intervention, the person either imagines or puts him or herself into situations that cause increasing levels of agoraphobic anxiety, using relaxation techniques in each situation in order to master their anxiety. As people gain access to the Internet, there is increasing evidence that exposure therapy can also be done effectively through that medium.
Regarding medical therapy, agoraphobia is usually treated in connection with panic disorder. Commonly, members of the serotonin selective reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) and the minor tranquilizer (benzodiazepine) groups of medications are used in treatment. Examples of SSRI medications include sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil), and fluoxetine (Prozac). The possible side effects of SSRI medications can vary greatly from person to person and depend on which medication is being used. Common side effects of this group of medications include dry mouth, sexual dysfunction, nausea, tremors, trouble sleeping, blurred vision, constipation or soft stools, and dizziness. In very rare cases, some people have been thought to become acutely more anxious or depressed once on the medication, even trying to or completing suicide or homicide. Children and teens are thought to be particularly vulnerable to this rare possibility.
Phobias are also sometimes treated using beta-blocker medications, which block the effects of adrenaline on the body. An example of a beta-blocker medication is propranolol.
Panic disorder and phobias are less commonly treated with drugs in a medication class known as benzodiazepines. This class of medications causes relaxation but is used much less often these days to treat anxiety due to the possibility of addiction, increasing need for higher doses, and overdose. The risk of overdose is especially heightened if taken when alcohol is also being consumed. Examples of medications from that group include diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan), and clonazepam (Klonopin).
As anything that is ingested carries the risk of possible side effects, it is important to work closely with your doctor to decide whether medication is appropriate, and if so, which medication would be best for you. Further, the treating doctor will likely closely monitor for the possibility of side effects that can vary from the minor to the severe and in rare cases may even be life-threatening.
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