The thought of being trapped in a confined space is unappealing to most people. However, a small percentage of people have an intense fear of confined spaces, even when there is no real threat of danger. This condition is referred to as claustrophobia, and it can be highly distressing for individuals affected by it. Claustrophobia is known as a specific phobia; a class of phobias that stem from specific things or experiences, such as spiders, heights or confined spaces. In general, specific phobias, including claustrophobia, are considered a type of anxiety disorder.

People who experience claustrophobia may be fearful or triggered by a range of experiences, including:

  • Using an elevator
  • Traveling in confined vehicles, such as a locked car or airplane
  • Going through tunnels or revolving doors
  • Getting an MRI

While these moments may be fleeting and may not pose any real threat, they can be extremely anxiety-provoking for someone with claustrophobia. Claustrophobia statistics show that the signs or symptoms of claustrophobia can include:

  • Sweating
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Feeling faint
  • Increased heartbeat

Claustrophobia facts also suggest that people who have claustrophobia may experience anxiety in anticipation of being in enclosed spaces, as well as fear of losing control or fear of death.

How Common Is Claustrophobia?

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorder, and specific phobias are the most prevalent in this category. It is estimated that 12.5% of U.S. adults will experience a specific phobia in their lifetime; however, many do not seek treatment.

Claustrophobia is relatively common, with a review of specific phobia research estimating that approximately 2.2% of the population experience a fear of enclosed spaces. Claustrophobia prevalence is higher among women and tends to emerge for the first time in adolescence or early adulthood.

Rates of Claustrophobia and Co-Occurring Conditions

Although claustrophobia includes anxiety-like symptoms, it can also co-occur with a diagnosis of an anxiety or panic disorder. For example, people who may already struggle with general anxiety or experience panic attacks may be more susceptible to a fear of enclosed spaces.

The occurrence of specific phobias and other disorders is high, particularly with major depression and other anxiety disorders. Those who experience claustrophobia may also have other specific phobias such as a fear of heights or the sight of blood. Specific phobias are highly comorbid with mood disorders, and people with claustrophobia may experience general anxiety or panic attacks.

Claustrophobia Risk Factors

It can be difficult to pinpoint where a fear of enclosed spaces may have originated, but there are several claustrophobia risk factors. In some cases, this fear or anxiety may be inherited or learned. For those who have had a traumatic event related to a closed space or feeling trapped, claustrophobia may be associated with this experience.

Impact of Claustrophobia

Claustrophobia can be disruptive to daily life, and this phobia has been noted as one of the most impairing. People who are claustrophobic may avoid everyday situations that trigger their anxiety, including driving, using an elevator or entering windowless rooms. In a health care setting, claustrophobia is highly reported during MRI scans, an essential tool for health screening.

Claustrophobia Treatment and Prognosis

Despite the disruption caused by claustrophobia, reports show that a low percentage of those affected by it seek help — just 7.8%. Many may avoid seeking treatment for fear of being exposed to an enclosed space. However, seeking help can result in a better quality of life. Many strategies can help reduce the impact of claustrophobia on daily life and improve the prognosis of claustrophobia. Some claustrophobia treatments may include:

  • Exposure therapy
  • Imaging an enclosed space, either through imagination or virtual reality
  • Muscle relaxation
  • Cognitive therapy techniques

The best treatment for claustrophobia can vary from person to person. If you or a loved one is affected by claustrophobia and a co-occurring substance use disorder, contact The Recovery Village today at 352.771.2700 to discuss how we may be able to help.


National Health Service. “Claustrophobia.” June 7, 2016. Accessed April 22, 2019.

National Institute of Mental Health. “Specific Phobia.” November 2017. Accessed April 23, 2019.

Kessler, R. C., et al. “Lifetime Prevalence and Age-of-Onset Distributions of DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication.” JAMA Network, 2005. Accessed April 23, 2019.

Kim, S. J., et al. “The prevalence of specific phobia and associated co-morbid features in children and adolescents.” J Anxiety Disord, 2010. Accessed April 23, 2019.

Mackenzie, Corey S et al. “Disorder-specific mental health service use for mood and anxiety disorders: associations with age, sex, and psychiatric comorbidity.” Depression and Anxiety, 2011. Accessed April 24, 2019.

Eshed, I., et al.. “Claustrophobia and premature termination of magnetic resonance imaging examinations.” J Magn Reson Imaging, 2007. Accessed April 24, 2019.

Becker, E. S., et al. “Epidemiology of specific phobia subtypes: findings from the Dresden Mental Health Study.” Eur Psychiatry, 2007. Accessed April 24, 2019.

Wardenaar, K J et al. “The cross-national epidemiology of specific phobia in the World Mental Health Surveys.” Psychological Medicine, 2017. Accessed April 24, 2019.

Van Houtem, C. M., et al. “A review and meta-analysis of the heritability of specific phobia subtypes and corresponding fears.” J Anxiety Disord, 2013. Accessed April 24, 2019.

Depla, M. F. I. A., et al. “Specific fears and phobias in the general population: Results from the Netherlands Mental Health Survey and Incidence Study (NEMESIS).” Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol, 2008. Accessed April 25, 2019.

Eshed, I., et al. “Claustrophobia and premature termination of magnetic resonance imaging examinations.” J Magn Reson Imaging, 2007. Accessed April 25, 2019.

Wolitzky-Taylor, K. B., et al. “Psychological approaches in the treatment of specific phobias: a meta-analysis.” Clin Psychol Rev, 2008. Accessed April 25, 2019.

Wardenaar, K. J., et al. “The cross-national epidemiology of specific phobia in the World Mental Health Surveys.” Psychol Med, 2017. Accessed May 1, 2019.

Witthauer, C., et al. “Associations of specific phobia and its subtypes with physical diseases: an adult community study.” BMC Psychiatry, 2016. Accessed May 1, 2019.

Share on Social Media: