Phagophobia (fear of swallowing): symptoms, causes and treatment

There is currently a myriad of specific phobias related to all kinds of objects, behaviors, people or situations; some of them are more unusual than others. While most phobias don’t always have to have serious health consequences, there are specific cases where they can end up causing another type of illness that is much more serious.

This is the case with phagophobia, Which we will be talking about throughout this article and which can be associated with cases of anorexia and severe weight loss. Next, we will describe its main features, symptoms, causes and possible treatments.

    What is phagophobia?

    Phagophobia falls under the category of specific anxiety disorders, also called specific phobias. Like other phobias, it is characterized by the appearance of severe episodes of fear and anxiety when a specific stimulus appears. In that case fear is felt when swallowing.

    Like other anxiety disorders caused by a specific stimulus, the person with phagophobia experiences a strong fear response, accompanied by typical physical manifestations of very high anxiety states.

    The main characteristics that distinguish a phobic fear are specified in the following points:

    • The person experiences fear and dread that is disproportionate to the actual threat posed by the stimulus.
    • This is a completely irrational fear. In many cases, the patient himself is unable to find a logical explanation to justify his fear.
    • It is uncontrollable fear, so the person is unable to prevent the onset of phobic symptoms.
    • It is stable over time. Even if it only manifests itself in the face of the appearance or imagination of the phobic stimulus, the person maintains the phobia over time.

    As a result and if no treatment is received, the patient it can lead to serious complications from poor nutrition. In some cases, phagophobia can lead to disinterest in food, severe weight loss, or anorexia.

      Differences from other phobias

      It is common for phagophobia to be confused with other specific types of phobias, such as penigophobia or the excessive fear of drowning or drowning. Although they may seem very similar, as both are related to the act of swallowing, in phagophobia the phobic stimulus is the simple act of swallowing, while in pnigophobia the fear lies in the possibility of drowning and drowning from swallowing.

      In either case, the physical symptoms can be confused with those of other conditions such as dysphagia and odynophagia, in which the person suffers from a psychological disorder that prevents them from swallowing or makes them very painful.

      What are the symptoms?

      Because phagophobia falls into the category of specific phobias, its symptomatology is similar to that of other anxiety disorders of this type. The clinical picture of an anxious nature is characterized by the appearance of physical, cognitive and behavioral symptoms whenever the person has to cope with the dreaded act, in this case swallowing.

      Sometimes the phobia can be so strongly ingrained that the patient manifests the symptoms simply by thinking or imagining that they are swallowing food, drink, or even medication.

      Therefore, the following symptoms will appear in phagobobia, which are sorted by category:

      1. Physical symptoms

      Some of the first symptoms that the patient is aware of are physical or organic symptoms. These are due to overactivation of the nervous system in response to the appearance of the feared stimulus. As a result of this increased functioning, all kinds of alterations and changes can appear in the body.

      When this physical symptomatology appears, the person may experience:

      • Increased heart rate.
      • Increased respiratory rate.
      • Feeling of suffocation, suffocation or shortness of breath.
      • Increased muscle tension.
      • Headache.
      • Stomach upset and upset stomach.
      • Increased sweating.
      • Dizziness or lightheadedness.
      • Nausea and / or vomiting.
      • Fainting.

      2. Cognitive symptoms

      In addition to physical symptoms, phagophobia is also characterized by the presence of a series of cognitive symptoms that manifest as thoughts, beliefs and speculations about possible dangers that may appear or be related to swallowing or swallowing.

      These distorted or irrational ideas and beliefs lead to the development of this phobia and stand out because the person incorporates a series of illogical thoughts and imaginations that are constantly held in their mind.

      3. Behavioral symptoms

      Finally, like other phobias, phagophobia also exhibits a number of behavioral symptoms. This symptomatology related to the behavior of the person manifests itself by means of sidings and exhaust ducts.

      In avoidance behaviors, the person performs all kinds of acts or behaviors with the primary purpose of avoid encountering the phobic stimulus. With them, he manages to avoid experiencing feelings of anguish and anxiety generated by this situation.

      However, in the case of escape behaviors, these appear when the person could not avoid the occurrence of the feared situation, so that he will perform any type of act or behavior necessary to escape the situation. situation in which he is involved.

      What are the causes?

      Finding out the origin of a phobia can be a very complicated task, because in many cases the person himself is not able to determine what experience may have conditioned the appearance of this fear.

      However, it is known that there are several factors that can predispose or improve the onset and development of an anxiety disorder of these characteristics. This is the case of the existence of a genetic predisposition that worsens the effects of anxiety on the person, accompanied by the experience of a situation or event that is highly traumatic or has a strong emotional charge.

      These factors or the possibility of learning by proxy or by imitation can very likely trigger the onset of this phobia or any other phobia.

      Is there a treatment?

      Due to the danger of the possible effects of this phobia (extreme weight loss or anorexia), it is essential that the patient undergoes an intervention that decreases the intensity of the symptoms and even makes them disappear completely.

      There are a number of psychological treatments which can cause the person to improve considerably. These interventions include three different and complementary types of actions.

      The first is a cognitive restructuring intervention, which changes all of those distorted thoughts and beliefs that the person has about the act of swallowing.

      This intervention is accompanied by live exposure techniques or systematic desensitization, Whereby the person is gradually exposed, directly or through the imagination, to the feared stimulus.

      In order to reduce the physical symptoms of facing the dreaded situation, training in relaxation techniques is performed which reduces the arousal levels of the nervous system and helps the person to cope with his fears effectively.

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