Description, Causes and Risk Factors:

Claustrophobia is described as an intense fear of being trapped or confined in small spaces. A person dealing with claustrophobia often experiences great anxiety and difficulty breathing in small enclosed spaces, and may experience feelings of panic or even have a full panic attack. Unfortunately, as with many phobias, there is no easy description of claustrophobia.


Generalized anxiety disorders affects about 3% of the people in the general population in any given year. 55-66% of those are female. According to the APA (American Psychiatric Association), 8% of American adults suffer from a phobia. Less than 5% of Americans actually suffer from claustrophobia.

Individuals with claustrophobia will often enter any enclosed area (such as a movie theatre) and immediately scan their surroundings for the nearest exit. They do their best to avoid small, confined spaces such as elevators, basements or cellars, airplanes, or even rooms with closed doors. Crowded spaces can also trigger a claustrophobic reaction, as exits may be blocked and a quick escape may be difficult.

There may not be an obvious cause but results from a combination of biological, psychological and social factors. Anxiety disorders run in families and claustrophobia also appears to be related to certain brain functions. Lower levels of GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) are associated with higher levels of anxiety.

Risk Factors:

The following factors are associated with an increased chance of developing claustrophobia or a claustrophobic anxiety attack.

    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.

Living and dealing with claustrophobia can be difficult and limiting, as the individual often has to avoid certain situations and places.


If a person suffering from claustrophobia suddenly finds themselves in an enclosed space, theymay have an anxiety attack.

Symptoms common symptoms include:


  • Accelerated heart rate.

  • Hyperventilation.

  • Shaking.

  • Lightheadedness.

  • Nausea.

  • Fainting.

  • Fear of actual harm or illness.


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. You may be referred to a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other trained mental health practitioner for further evaluation and treatment.


A number of treatment options are available to help overcome claustrophobia. Research has shown that phobias respond best to a combination of treatment models. The person may be treated as an outpatient or, sometimes, as an inpatient if their phobia is particularly severe. The most common type of treatment for claustrophobia involves mental health counseling targeted to overcoming the fear and managing triggering situations.

    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 such a way as to change the reaction.

  • Medications - such as tranquillizers and antidepressants. Drugs known as beta blockers may be used to treat the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as a pounding heart.

  • Flooding - this is a form of exposure treatment, where the person is exposed to their phobic trigger until the anxiety attack passes. The realization 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 - if the person is far too fearful to attempt flooding, then counter-conditioning can be an option. The person is taught to use specific relaxation and visualization 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. This is known as systematic desensitization.

  • Modelling - the person watches other people confront the phobic trigger without fear and is encouraged to imitate that confidence.

Note:The above information is educational purpose. The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition.

Other phobias: Nomophobia, Photophobia.

DISCLAIMER: This information should not substitute for seeking responsible, professional medical care.


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