100695 Health Library | Health and Wellness | Wellmont Health System
  • Claustrophobia

    Definition

    Claustrophobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by irrational fear of enclosed or small spaces. People with claustrophobia often describe it as feeling trapped without an exit or way out. Claustrophobia involves emotional and physical reactions to triggering situations. The fear of claustrophobia may be intense, but treatment can help manage or overcome it.
    Common Physical Reaction to Triggering Situations
    Physical reaction anxiety
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    Causes

    Like all phobias, the cause of claustrophobia is not well known. It can run in families. The signs of claustrophobia usually develop early in life during childhood or the teenage years. Claustrophobia can disappear in adulthood. If it does not, treatment is usually necessary to overcome the fear. It may limit work or social activities or tasks of daily living.

    Risk Factors

    Risk factors that increase your chance of developing claustrophobia or a claustrophobic anxiety attack include:
    • A history of anxiety or nervousness when in an enclosed room or space
    • Continually avoiding situations that have brought on a previous anxiety attack; repeated avoidance may actually increase the chance of a claustrophobic attack and its severity.

    Symptoms

    Symptoms may include those typical of a panic attack :
    • Sweating
    • Rapid heart beat
    • Shortness of breath or hyperventilation
    • Trembling
    • Light-headedness or fainting
    • Nausea
    • Feelings of dread, terror, panic
    Other signs of claustrophobia include:
    • Automatically and compulsively looking for exits when in a room or feeling fearful if doors are shut
    • Avoiding elevators, riding in subways or airplanes, or cars in heavy traffic
    • Standing near exits in crowded social situations

    Diagnosis

    Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may be referred to a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other trained mental health provider.

    Treatment

    Talk with your doctor or mental health provider about the best treatment plan for you. Options include the following:

    Psychotherapy

    The most common type of treatment for claustrophobia involves mental health counseling targeted to overcoming the fear and managing triggering situations.
    Different types of strategies include:
    • Relaxation and visualization techniques designed to calm the fear when in a claustrophobic environment
    • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) —an approach that involves learning to control the thoughts that occur when confronted with the fear-inducing situation in order to change the reaction

    Medication

    Your doctor may prescribe drugs to control the panic and physical symptoms of claustrophobia. These include antidepressants and antianxiety agents. They will not cure the condition but are often helpful when used with psychotherapy.

    Prevention

    There are no known ways to prevent claustrophobia.

    RESOURCES

    Anxiety and Depression Association of America http://www.adaa.org

    American Psychiatric Association http://www.healthyminds.org

    National Alliance on Mental Illness http://www.nami.org

    National Institute of Mental Health http://www.nimh.nih.gov

    CANADIAN RESOURCES

    Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada http://www.anxietycanada.ca

    Canadian Psychiatric Association http://www.cpa-apc.org

    References

    Anxiety disorders. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml . Updated January 29, 2013. Accessed January 31, 2013.

    Specific phobia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated November 9, 2012. Accessed January 31, 2013.

    Treatment. Anxiety Disorders Association of America. Available at: http://www.adaa.org/finding-help/treatment . Updated January 29, 2013. Accessed January 31, 2013.

    Revision Information

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