Alice A. McCarthy, MBA
Claustrophobia is an
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.
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 that increase your chance of developing claustrophobia or a claustrophobic anxiety attack include:
Symptoms may include those typical of a
Other signs of claustrophobia include:
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.
Talk with your doctor or mental health provider about the best treatment plan for you. Options include the following:
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:
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.
There are no known ways to prevent claustrophobia.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America
American Psychiatric Association
National Alliance on Mental Illness
National Institute of Mental Health
Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada
Canadian Psychiatric Association
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.
Last reviewed September 2012 by
Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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