Because Agoraphobia occurs in the context of Panic Disorder With Agoraphobia and Agoraphobia Without History of Panic Disorder, the text and criteria set for Agoraphobia are provided separately in this section. The essential feature of Agoraphobia is anxiety about being in places or situations from which escape might be difficult (or embarrassing) or in which help may not be available in the event of having a Panic Attack or panic-like symptoms (e.g., fear of having a sudden attack of dizziness or a sudden attack of diarrhea) (Criterion A). The anxiety typically leads to a pervasive avoidance of a variety of situations that may include being alone outside the home or being home alone; being in a crowd of people; traveling in an automobile, bus, or airplane; or being on a bridge or in an elevator. Some individuals are able to expose themselves to the feared situations but endure these experiences with considerable dread. Often an individual is better able to confront a feared situation when accompanied by a companion (Criterion B). Individuals’ avoidance of situations may impair their ability to travel to work or to carry out homemaking responsibilities (e.g., grocery shopping, taking children to the doctor). The anxiety or phobic avoidance is not better accounted for by another mental disorder (Criterion C). The differential diagnosis to distinguish Agoraphobia from Social and Specific Phobia and from severe Separation Anxiety Disorder can be difficult because all of these conditions are characterized by avoidance of specific situations. The diagnostic issues for boundary cases are discussed in the “Differential Diagnosis” sections of the texts for the disorders in which avoidant behavior is an essential or associated feature.
Criteria for Agoraphobia
Note: Agoraphobia is not a codable disorder. Code the specific disorder in which the Agoraphobia occurs .
A. Anxiety about being in places or situations from which escape might be difficult (or embarrassing) or in which help may not be available in the event of having an unexpected or situationally predisposed Panic Attack or panic-like symptoms. Agoraphobic fears typically involve characteristic clusters of situations that include being outside the home alone; being in a crowd or standing in a line; being on a bridge; and traveling in a bus, train, or automobile.
Note: Consider the diagnosis of Specific Phobia if the avoidance is limited to one or only a few specific situations, or Social Phobia if the avoidance is limited to social situations.
B. The situations are avoided (e.g., travel is restricted) or else are endured with marked distress or with anxiety about having a Panic Attack or panic-like symptoms, or require the presence of a companion.
C. The anxiety or phobic avoidance is not better accounted for by another mental disorder, such as Social Phobia (e.g., avoidance limited to social situations because of fear of embarrassment), Specific Phobia (e.g., avoidance limited to a single situation like elevators), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (e.g., avoidance of dirt in someone with an obsession about contamination), Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (e.g., avoidance of stimuli associated with a severe stressor), or Separation Anxiety Disorder (e.g., avoidance of leaving home or relatives).
Anxiety Disorders: Introduction
Agoraphobia Without History of Panic Disorder
Specific Phobia (formerly Simple Phobia)
Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder)
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
Acute Stress Disorder
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (Includes Overanxious Disorder of Childhood)
Anxiety Disorder Due to a General Medical Condition
Substance-Induced Anxiety Disorder
Anxiety Disorder Not Otherwise Specified
Revision date: June 20, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD