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Those who suffer from agoraphobia, which is an anxiety disorder where patients avoid settings or situations where they fear they could suffer from a panic attack, can either have a light form of the disorder or one that is very severe. Studies have shown women to be at higher risk of having severe cases of the disorder than men. People who already suffer from an anxiety disorder, abuse drugs or alcohol or live in stressful situations are also more likely to suffer a more severe case of agoraphobia. Occasionally, a physical problem with the inner ear can also affect the severity of agoraphobia.
The presence of other anxiety disorders is usually associated with patients who suffer from agoraphobia. When the patient is exposed to stimuli that trigger an anxiety disorder, such as a person with necrophobia attending a funeral, a more severe panic attack might then be suffered by the patient. In essence, the patient is dealing with anxiety being triggered by two different disorders at the same time.
Substance abuse can cause a person’s agoraphobia to be more severe. Abusing alcohol, medications or illegal narcotics can cause the symptoms of the disorder to actually increase, such as further elevating the person’s heartbeat. Interestingly, though men who abuse alcohol as a result of their disorder are less likely to be properly diagnosed, and instead are labeled an alcoholic.
Living environments that place a high amount of stress on a patient might also affect the severity of agoraphobia. If a person’s living arrangements put him close to the stimuli that trigger his disorder, then the person is more likely to remain isolated and suffer other more severe symptoms of the disorder. For example, a person who is afraid of crowds but who also lives in the downtown area of a large city is less likely to venture outside of his home, even to purchase food or run any errands. This effect is less significant if the person lives with someone else, with whom they feel safe venturing into public places with.
Having a weakened vestibular system can also cause a patient to suffer from a more severe case of agoraphobia. The vestibular system is the part of a person’s inner ear that helps that person maintain his balance. Recent research has shown that some agoraphobics rely heavily on visual cues about their environment to maintain their sense of balance. When the patient is exposed to environments where visual cues are hard to perceive, such as places with many people, or a large open area such as a field or the desert, the patient can suffer from very severe panic attacks.