While claustrophobia can be difficult to live with, many people with the condition do not seek treatment. Statistics reveal the prevalence of claustrophobia, along with effective treatment options.

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  844.980.0026 to discuss how we may be able to help.

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Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Sarah Dash, PHD
Dr. Sarah Dash is a postdoctoral research fellow based in Toronto. Sarah completed her PhD in Nutritional Psychiatry at the Food and Mood Centre at Deakin University in 2017. Read more

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The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.