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Panic attacks and agoraphobia, the fear of open and public places, appear to be linked in a causal relationship, according to some psychiatric research. Patients with panic attacks may develop agoraphobia as a complication, although it is also possible to develop agoraphobia independently of panic attacks. When people are in treatment for panic attacks and agoraphobia, it is important to determine the nature of the relationship between the two in a patient's individual case for the purpose of developing and implementing an appropriate treatment plan.
Research on panic attacks and agoraphobia seems to suggest that in patients with a history of regular panic attacks, whatever the cause, it is possible to start developing anticipatory anxiety — a fear about having panic attacks. This anxiety can be acute when people go out because they may fear embarrassment if they have panic attacks in public. There can also be concerns about being out alone and being unable to communicate or get help during a panic attack. Over time, this can contribute to the development of agoraphobia.
If a person with panic attacks starts avoiding social situations, finding excuses not to go out, and limiting travel, these can be signs of the development of agoraphobia. Panic attacks and agoraphobia can become quite limiting for patients and may make it hard to get work, engage in daily activities, and maintain relationships. They can also become a vicious cycle, with built-up fears increasing the intensity of panic attacks and agoraphobia, thus making the patient's condition worse.
A number of treatments are available for patients with panic attacks. Medications can be used to help manage the acute onset of an attack, calming the patient down. Therapy is an option to allow patients to explore and address the causes of the attacks. Panic attacks can also be linked with issues like post traumatic stress disorder, and working through the underlying causes may resolve the panic attacks or help patients manage them more effectively.
Pushing patients with psychiatric conditions like panic attacks is not recommended, as it can make the patient worse. While tools like systematic desensitization are used in therapy to slowly accustom patients to the objects of their fears, these treatments are used under very careful medical supervision and direction, and it is difficult for people to densensitize themselves without the help of a mental health professional.