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Claustrophobia is an anxiety disorder that involves the fear of enclosed or confined spaces. Claustrophobes may suffer from panic attacks, or fear of having a panic attack, in situations such as being in elevators, trains or aircraft.
Conversely, people who are prone to having panic attacks will often develop claustrophobia. If a panic attack occurs while they are in a confined space, then the claustrophobe fears not being able to escape the situation. Those suffering from claustrophobia might find it difficult to breathe in closed auditoriums, theatres, and elevators. Like many other disorders, claustrophobia can sometimes develop due to a traumatic incident in childhood.
Claustrophobia can be treated in similar ways to other anxiety disorders, with a range of treatments including cognitive behavior therapy and the use of anti-anxiety medication.
Popularly, claustrophobia is considered to be the opposite of agoraphobia, or a "fear of open spaces". This is an oversimplification, however: claustrophobes may also fear being in crowds, and agoraphobia can also be characterized as a "fear of public spaces", and so a crowded city square might trigger claustrophobics and agoraphobics alike.
It was found that 5-10.6% of people screened before an MRI scan had claustrophobia. Furthermore, it was found that 7% of patients had unidentified claustrophobia, and had to terminate the scanning procedure prematurely. 30% reported milder distress due to the necessity to lie in a confined space for a long time. For specific phobias in general, there is a lifetime prevalence rate of 7.2%-11.3%.
There are a few kinds of therapy to cure the phobia:
- Flooding - This is a form of exposure treatment, where the patient is exposed to confined spaces. The realisation that they have encountered their most dreaded object or situation, and come to no actual harm, can be a powerful form of therapy.
- Counter-conditioning - This is a method of systematic desensitization, whereby the patient is taught to use specific relaxation and visualisation techniques when experiencing phobia-related anxiety. The phobic trigger is slowly introduced, step-by-step, while the person concentrates on attaining physical and mental relaxation. Eventually, they can confront the source of their fear without feeling anxious.
- Modelling - Similarly, this is where a patient is shown people flooding, and are encouraged to mimic the confidence.
- Cognitive behaviour therapy - the person is encouraged to confront and change the specific thoughts and attitudes that lead to feelings of fear.
- Medications - Drugs such as tranquilizers and anti-depressants. Drugs known as beta blockers may be used to treat the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as a pounding heart.
- Claustrophilia, the antonym of claustrophobia
- Burial alive
- Caving, a sport in which practitioners frequently enter enclosed spaces voluntarily
- List of phobias
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