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Phobias are among the most treatable mental health problems; depending on the severity of the condition and the type of phobia, most properly treated patients can go on to lead normal lives. Research suggests that once a person overcomes the phobia, the problem may not return for many years—if at all.
Untreated phobias are another matter. Only about 20% of specific phobias will go away without treatment, and agoraphobia will get worse with time if untreated. Social phobias tend to be chronic, and without treatment, will not likely go away. Moreover, untreated phobias can lead to other problems, including depression, alcoholism, and feelings of shame and low self-esteem.
A group of researchers in Boston reported in 2003 that phobic anxiety appears to be a risk factor for Parkinson's disease (PD) in males, although it is not yet known whether phobias cause PD or simply share an underlying biological cause.
While most specific phobias appear in childhood and subsequently fade away, those that remain in adulthood often need to be treated. Unfortunately, most people never get the help they need; only about 25% of people with phobias ever seek help to deal with their condition.
There is no known way to prevent the development of phobias. Medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy may help prevent the recurrence of symptoms once they have been diagnosed. Early detection and treatments may decrease severity.
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition, text revision. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 2000.
Bloomfield, Harold H. Healing Anxiety with Herbs. New York: Harper Collins, 1998.
Peurifoy, Reneau Z. Anxiety, Phobias and Panic: A Step by Step Program for Regaining Control of Your Life. New York: Warner Books, 1996.
"Phobic Disorders. " Section 15, Chapter 187 in The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy, edited by Mark H. Beers, MD, and Robert Berkow, MD. Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck Research Laboratories, 2002.
Schneier, Franklin, and Lawrence Welkowitz. The Hidden Face of Shyness: Understanding and Overcoming Social Anxiety. New York: Avon Books, 1996.
Stern, Richard. Mastering Phobias: Cases, Causes and Cures. New York: Penguin USA, 1996.
Author Info: Paula Ford-Martin, Rebecca J. Frey PhD, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, 2005
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