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Agoraphobia (from the Greek for "fear of the marketplace") is a group of anxiety disorders characterized by a patient's feeling of a loss of control of one's environment and a subjective feeling that the environment provides no avenue of escape. This can include a large number of environments, such as wide-open spaces or crowded buildings such as shopping malls and airports. Being in such situations can often set off an anxiety attack and patients avoid such environments out of the simple fear that such an attack will exert itself which, paradoxically, only increases the feeling of anxiety. Patients also fear the embarrassment of losing control in such situations in front of other people.
Agoraphobia is a very common disorder, occurring in about one out of every 50 people in the United States. It affects women more often than men and it usually has an onset after the age of twenty. In addition to anxiety, patients can also suffer from feelings of dissociation as memories fail to form in the stressful environment, a feeling of disconnection from one's own self, and a feeling of disconnection from the surroundings. It is also common for agoraphobics to suffer from fear of death, and to feel anxiety when familiar people from their surroundings, such as parents, spouses, siblings and children, are not in the house.
The causes of the condition are not well understood. It is common in people who suffer from other anxiety disorders, those who have lived in a stressful home or work environment, and in people who abuse drugs. There is also a correlation with those who have difficulty maintaining balance and orientation.
Treatment of agoraphobes is difficult. Behavioral therapy to slowly expose the patient to stressful environments is often effective, but slow and expensive. Anti-anxiety drugs are useful, but are often less successful.
Several famous people have admitted to bouts of agoraphobia, including Woody Allen, Kim Basinger, football legend Earl Campbell, Macaulay Culkin and recluse Howard Hughes.