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Specific phobia in adults: Epidemiology, clinical manifestations, course and diagnosis

Randi E McCabe, PhD
Section Editor
Murray B Stein, MD, MPH
Deputy Editor
Richard Hermann, MD


Specific phobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by clinically significant fear of a particular object or situation that typically leads to avoidance behavior. Phobic fears include animals, insects, heights, water, enclosed places, driving, flying, seeing blood, getting an injection, and choking or vomiting.

The phobic anxiety may be triggered by anticipation of the stimulus, actual exposure to the stimulus, and even hearing the stimulus name spoken aloud (eg, hearing the word spider for an individual with spider phobia). The focus of fear may include disgust, danger of harm, and/or the experience of physical symptoms in the phobic situation [1].

This topic describes the epidemiology, pathogenesis, clinical manifestations, course, and diagnosis of specific phobia in adults. Specific phobias relating to clinical procedures (eg, blood-injection-injury phobia) and other manifestations of acute procedural anxiety, are discussed separately. Specific phobia, other anxiety disorders, and fears in children are also discussed separately. Pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy for specific phobia in adults are also discussed separately. (See "Anxiety disorders in children and adolescents: Epidemiology, pathogenesis, clinical manifestations, and course" and "Overview of fears and phobias in children and adolescents" and "Pharmacotherapy for specific phobia in adults" and "Cognitive-behavioral therapies for specific phobia in adults" and "Acute procedure anxiety in adults: Epidemiology and clinical presentation" and "Treatment of acute procedural anxiety in adults".)


There are five main specifiers (which can be considered types) of specific phobias in DSM-5 that are based on the nature of the phobic stimulus [2]:

Animal (eg, spiders, insects, dogs).

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Feb 17, 2017.
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