Several biologic theories are postulated for the pathogenesis of phobic disorders, most focusing on the dysregulation of endogenous biogenic amines. Sympathetic nervous system activation is common in phobic disorders, resulting in elevations in heart rate and blood pressure, as well as symptoms such as tremor, palpitations, sweating, dyspnea, dizziness, and paresthesias.
Social phobia can be effectively treated with medications including, MAOIs, SSRIs and high- potency benzodiazepines. People with a specific form of social phobia called performance phobia have been helped by drugs called beta blockers. There is no proven drug treatment for specific phobias, but certain medications may help reduce symptoms of anxiety before one faces a phobic situation. A type of cognitive-behavioral therapy known as “exposure therapy” is also a very useful treatment for phobias. It involves helping patients become gradually more comfortable with situations that frighten them. Relaxation and breathing techniques are also helpful.
Researchers are taking the next step, says psychologist and phobia researcher Arne Öhman, PhD, of the clinical neuroscience department at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. They are using neuroimaging techniques like positron-emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to understand the brain circuitry that underlies phobia and what happens in the brain during treatment.
In Canada, 12-month and lifetime prevalence rates are 1.6% and 3.7%, respectively.