The ancient term agoraphobia is translated from Greek as fear of an open marketplace. Agoraphobia today describes severe and pervasive anxiety about being in situations from which escape might be difficult or avoidance of situations such as being alone outside of the home, traveling in a car, bus, or airplane, or being in a crowded area (DSM-IV).
Most people who present to mental health specialists develop agoraphobia after the onset of panic disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 1998). Agoraphobia is best understood as an adverse behavioral outcome of repeated panic attacks and the subsequent worry, preoccupation, and avoidance (Barlow, 1988). Thus, the formal diagnosis of panic disorder with agoraphobia was established. However, for those people in communities or clinical settings who do not meet full criteria for panic disorder, the formal diagnosis of agoraphobia without history of panic disorder is used (DSM-IV).
The 1 -year prevalence of agoraphobia is about 5 percent. Agoraphobia occurs about two times more commonly among women than men (Magee et al., 1996). The gender difference may be attributable to social-cultural factors that encourage, or permit, the greater expression of avoidant coping strategies by women (DSM-IV), although other explanations are possible.