(ABC News) -- Felix Baumgartner, the daredevil who stunned the world this weekend with a 23-mile skydiving free fall, could handle the height, just not the tight, pressurized suit.
Like millions of others, the 43-year-old Austrian suffers from claustrophobia. His feat, leaping from 102,800 feet and breaking the unofficial record set by Col. Joe Kittinger in 1960, almost never happened.
"Go figure," said Reid Wilson, director of the Anxiety Disorders Treatment Center in Chapel Hill, N.C., and founder of self-help website Anxieties.com.
"He is basically in open space and not wrapped up that way," Wilson said of Baumgartner's previous jumps from the Petronas Towers and the Taipei 101 skyscraper.
Wilson said it was not at all odd for a person to fear the suit more than the height. He noted that half of all pilots are actually afraid of heights. He advised American Airlines when it created its fear-of-flying programs and noted that phobic pilots say they feel shielded in the cockpit.
An estimated 11 million Americans suffer from phobias, and the fear of closed-in spaces is one of the top five, Wilson said, citing worries about being trapped or suffocating. But that is "totally different" from acrophobia, or fear of heights, which is among the top-10 fears but not an issue for Baumgartner.
The former paratrooper said he was nearly paralyzed getting ready for his latest stunt, one that broke world records and the sound barrier.
In an interview with Red Bulletin magazine earlier this year, he said, "...We carried out the last major tests with the space suit and it was clear to me that I had a problem -- one I never thought I'd have -- with my psyche. I had trouble putting on my space suit, and it got worse and worse. I could barely stand a couple of minutes in it."
Baumgartner's customized space suit and helmet are typically worn by high-altitude pilots and can constrict movement and vision.
They were described by his team as "his personal life-support system," according to a report in the Guardian newspaper. It had four layers, a "comfort liner," a gas layer that retained air pressure, the restraining layer to keep the suit's shape and an external layer made of fire-prevention material.
The suit was designed to protect him from ebullism, the biggest medical danger in skydiving. When the body is exposed to a vacuum, even for a short period of time, the blood can literally boil, causing the body's fluids to turn to gas.
The low pressure can also cause gas to seep into the body and, like skin diving, cause decompression sickness or the "bends." Gas bubbles in an artery can also stop blood flow.