Claustrophobia, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention, Complications

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Claustrophobia is an excessive fear or anxiety of narrow and closed spaces. Symptoms of claustrophobia can appear when the sufferer is in a narrow and closed space, such as a tunnel, elevator, cellar, or MRI examination device.

Claustrophobia belongs to one of the specific types of phobias, such as blood phobia or spider phobia. The fear and anxiety experienced by people with claustrophobia need to be handled appropriately because it can interfere with daily activities.

Causes of Claustrophobia

It is not known exactly what causes claustrophobia. However, people with claustrophobia generally experience traumatic events during childhood. Some of the traumatic events that can cause claustrophobia are:

  • Stuck in a narrow and closed space for a long time
  • Experiencing severe turbulence on an airplane
  • Punished by being locked in a tight space, like a toilet
  • Being locked in a tight space, like a closet, for a long time

Risk factors for claustrophobia

There are several factors that can increase a person's risk of experiencing claustrophobia, namely:

  • Female gender
  • Have a family history of claustrophobia
  • Have another type of phobia
  • Have experienced a traumatic event as a child, such as bullying or abuse

Symptoms of Claustrophobia

Symptoms of claustrophobia can vary in sufferers, ranging from nervousness to severe panic attacks. Generally, the symptoms experienced by sufferers can last for 5-30 minutes.

Claustrophobia can cause both physical and mental symptoms.

Physical symptoms include:

  • Body shaking and sweating
  • Difficulty breathing or rapid breathing
  • Nauseous
  • Chest pain
  • Fast heart rate
  • Shivering
  • Stomach ache
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizzy until you feel like you're going to faint
  • daze
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)

Meanwhile, mental symptoms that can appear in people with claustrophobia are:

  • Fear of losing control and fear of fainting
  • Excessive anxiety
  • It is difficult to control fear even though you are aware that the feeling is too much
  • Fear of losing life

In addition to the above symptoms, claustrophobia in children can cause additional symptoms, such as:

  • Easy cry
  • Easy to get angry
  • Want to continue with other people
  • Body becomes stiff

When to go to the doctor

Check with your doctor if you experience the symptoms mentioned above, especially if these symptoms get worse and interfere with daily activities, whether at work, school, or doing social activities.

You also need to see a doctor immediately if your symptoms cause you to withdraw from social circles.

Diagnosis of Claustrophobia

To diagnose claustrophobia, the doctor will ask questions about the symptoms experienced by the patient, the patient's and family's medical history, as well as a history of traumatic events that the patient has experienced. After that, the doctor will perform a thorough physical examination.

To confirm the diagnosis, the doctor will conduct a follow-up examination that is adjusted to the DSM-5 criteria (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition). A person can be said to have claustrophobia if there are the following conditions:

  • Having symptoms of a phobia of confined spaces that has lasted for 6 months or more
  • Experiencing fear and anxiety that interferes with the patient's ability to carry out daily activities
  • Strive to avoid narrow and confined spaces, such as taking the stairs instead of using the elevator
  • Feeling anxious and afraid just thinking about being in a narrow or closed room
  • Do not have other conditions that cause fear and anxiety

Treatment of Claustrophobia

Treatment for claustrophobia is tailored to the severity of the patient. The goal of treatment is to relieve anxiety and fear, and help the patient to control himself when he is in a narrow and closed room.

The following are some methods of treating claustrophobia:


Some methods of psychotherapy that can be used to treat claustrophobia are:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy, to control thoughts, feelings, and behavior when in a feared place
  • Exposure therapy (desensitization), to help patients control their behavior, attitudes, and thoughts to become more positive
  • Relaxation therapy, to relax muscles and nerves, and relieve fear and anxiety
  • Flooding therapy, which is placing the patient in a situation that triggers the phobia until the symptoms experienced subside, so that the patient realizes that the object or place is not dangerous
  • Modeling therapy, which is to make the patient see normal people's reactions to objects or places that trigger phobias


In addition to therapy, doctors can also give medicines to overcome the fear and anxiety that arise due to being in a narrow room. Prescribed drugs are anti-anxiety drugs or antidepressants.

Complications of Claustrophobia

If left untreated, claustrophobia can lead to several complications, namely:

  • Self isolation from social environment
  • Interference with daily activities, such as studying and working
  • Decreased quality of life
  • Inability to undergo medical examinations, due to fear of MRI or CT scans
  • Depression

Prevention of Claustrophobia

Given the exact cause is not known, claustrophobia is difficult to prevent. However, the risk of developing claustrophobia can be reduced by seeing a doctor if you have PTSD, have had a childhood trauma, or have experienced early symptoms of claustrophobia.

In addition, having a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly for at least 30 minutes a day can help reduce symptoms when claustrophobia strikes.

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