Phobias

Unlike traditional psychiatry, which rarely looks at the brain, Amen Clinics uses brain imaging technology to identify brain patterns associated with phobias and other mental health disorders.

What are Phobias?

Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder that cause people to experience excessive and irrational fears that interfere with daily living. Phobias can center on places, situations, or objects. Almost everybody has something that causes uneasiness—getting on an elevator, seeing a spider, looking down from high places—but most people can manage those fears and get on with their lives. People who have phobias, however, will go to great lengths to avoid the situations, things, and places that trigger their irrational fears. They may understand there is no real danger, but they feel powerless to rein in their terror. Having a phobia can get in the way of your daily routines, impact your ability to perform your best at work, create strain in your relationships, and damage your confidence and self-esteem. You don’t have to live with this constant fear.

Who has Phobias?

In the U.S., approximately about 19 million people—8.7% of the adult population—are affected by specific phobias. And it is estimated that 7-9% of children have phobias. The condition is more common in women, who are twice as likely as men to develop phobias. Symptoms typically emerge during childhood, and according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, age 7 is the average for the onset of the disorder.

What are the Core Symptoms?

Regardless of the type of phobia you have, the symptoms they produce are usually similar to a panic attack. Typical symptoms include nausea, sweating, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, trembling, feeling faint, chills, a choking sensation, confusion, dizziness, and panic. In children, symptoms including crying and being clingy, or they may resemble a temper tantrum.

What Causes Phobias?

Many factors can increase the risk of the development of phobias, including:

  • Genetics: Having a family member with an anxiety disorder or phobia puts you at heightened risk.
  • Exposure to trauma: A negative childhood experience, such as being bitten by a dog, may trigger a fear of dogs.
  • Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs): Having a head injury makes you more vulnerable to anxiety disorders, including phobias.
  • Learned responses: Parents with phobias can transfer their irrational fears to their children. If a parent expresses fear about flying, their child may be as well.
  • Exposure to toxins or infections: Some toxins (such as toxic mold) or chronic infections (such as Lyme disease) raise the risk of anxiety disorders, including phobias.

Phobias often co-exist with other mental health disorders, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Substance use disorders

Why Choose Amen Clinics for Treating Phobias?

In traditional psychiatry, where diagnoses are based solely on symptom clusters, phobias can be misdiagnosed for other conditions, such as generalized anxiety disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder. An inaccurate diagnosis and improper treatment can exacerbate your symptoms and keep you mired in intense fear. At Amen Clinics, we believe in using the least toxic, most effective treatments. Amen Clinics uses brain SPECT imaging as part of a comprehensive evaluation to more accurately diagnose phobias so you can get a personalized treatment plan for your needs.

Phobic Brains Work Differently

Functional brain imaging studies have found abnormal activity in several brain regions in people who have phobias. In some studies, people with irrational fears who were exposed to words related to their phobia showed increased activation in the following brain areas:

  • Prefrontal cortex —involved in focus, judgment, and decision-making
  • Insula —involved in emotions, self-awareness, and perception
  • Posterior cingulate cortex —involved in emotional salience and memory

 
Brain imaging studies using SPECT clearly show that anxiety disorders, such as phobias, are not a character flaw or personal weakness. They are associated with biological changes in the brain. Our brain imaging work at Amen Clinics has helped us identify 7 different brain patterns associated with anxiety disorders. And each type requires its own treatment plan.

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Types of Phobias

Mental health professionals recognize 3 types of phobias:

Type 1: Social Phobias

Social phobias (also known as social anxiety disorder) are the most common type of phobia, affecting about 15 million adults in the U.S. Social phobias involve extreme self-consciousness in social situations and worry that others are watching and judging them. This can make it hard to engage in everyday activities and to make friends and maintain relationships.

Type 2: Agoraphobia

Fear of being overwhelmed by anxiety in specific places, situations, or spaces is the hallmark of agoraphobia. Things like being in a crowd of people, going to the movies, being in an elevator, being in an open parking lot, being on a bus or train, or standing in line may trigger the distressing feelings. People with agoraphobia are typically fearful of being trapped with no way to escape from the anxiety they feel in these places or situations. For some people with agoraphobia, they end up refusing to leave home due to their fears.

Type 3: Specific Phobias

Specific phobias involve an intense and unfounded fear of a specific trigger, which can be a place, a situation, or an object. People can have more than 1 specific phobia. The number of specific phobias adds up to over 500, but they tend to fall into 5 categories: fear of animals, fear of the natural environment, fear of medical procedures, fear of specific situations, and other fears.

Here are some of the most common specific phobias:

  • Acrophobia: Fear of heights
  • Arachnophobia: Fear of spiders
  • Aviophobia: Fear of flying
  • Coulraphobia: Fear of clowns
  • Cynophobia: Fear of dogs
  • Dentophobia: Fear of dentists
  • Entomophobia: Fear of insects
  • Hemophobia: Fear of blood
  • Hypochondria: Fear of illness
  • Lilapsophobia: Fear of hurricanes and tornadoes
  • Ophidiophobia: Fear of snakes
  • Nyctophobia: Fear of the dark
  • Claustrophobia: Fear of enclosed spaces
  • Glossophobia: Fear of public speaking
  • Trypanophobia: Fear of needles

Type 4: Less Common Phobias

Less common phobias include:

  • Ephebiphobia: Fear of teenagers
  • Genuphobia: Fear of knees
  • Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia: Fear of long words
  • Mageirocophobia: Fear of cooking
  • Porphyrophobia: Fear of the color purple
  • Samhainophobia: Fear of Halloween
  • Trypophobia: Fear of holes

 

“With A Better Brain Comes A Better Life”

– Daniel G. Amen, M.D.

 

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