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Emetophobia (fear of vomiting): symptoms, causes and treatment

Emetophobia (fear of vomiting): symptoms, causes and treatment

May 29, 2024

Both the act of vomiting, and the vomiting itself, are not one of the most pleasant experiences that the person can go through, since they are usually associated with other discomforts or pains. However, it is a natural act that our body performs when it believes that it must eliminate the agent that causes the discomfort, so it does not always involve any pathology or disease.

However, there are a small number of people who experience an absolute and intense fear of everything related to vomiting. This is known as emetofobia, a specific type of phobia which we will talk about throughout this article.

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What is emetophobia?

Emetophobia is a psychological condition categorized within specific anxiety disorders. Like the rest of specific phobias, it is distinguished because the person suffering from it experiences a deep fear towards an object, person or specific situation.


In the concrete case of emetofobia, this exacerbated fear occurs before any stimulus related to vomit . Although anyone can manifest feelings of aversion to him, in emetofobia the person experiences a deep sense of fear, which is also irrational, uncontrollable and remains over time.

The situations that can cause this response of anxiety in the person range from the act of vomiting, as well as seeing others vomit, such as the sensation of nausea that precedes the vomit or the vomit itself.

It is estimated that approximately 5% of the world population suffers from this exaggerated fear of vomiting and vomiting behavior appearing almost with the same incidence in people of different ages and sexes, having recorded cases in childhood, adolescence and adulthood.


Some of the characteristics shared by most people with emetophobia include anxious personality characteristics and tend to increase their level of tension and nervousness whenever they are in places such as health centers or sick people, since they are faced with the possibility of see someone throw up.

In the same way, these people tend to alter their eating habits consuming only foods with what they are sure not to vomit . In certain occasions, this behavior can become so serious that it usually leads to eating disorders such as anorexia.

The reason is that the person restricts the amount of daily food or refuses to eat for fear of vomiting. This appears along with the feeling of anxiety that emetofobia causes every time they go to eat, which turns this act into a constant torment and suffering.


What are the symptoms of this phobia of the fear of vomiting?

Given that emetofobia is within the classification of phobias or specific anxiety disorders, its clinical picture is presented in a similar way to the rest. The symptoms that are included within this diagnosis can be divided into physical symptoms, cognitive symptoms and behavioral symptoms .

These symptoms can appear as much by the presence of the phobic stimulus, as by the mere imagination or mental representation of it. As a consequence, the following symptoms can appear in emetophobia, ordered according to the previous categories:

1. Physical symptoms

As a consequence of the appearance of the phobic stimulus, in this case any stimulus related to vomiting, a hyperactivation of the nervous system occurs . The product of this increase in functioning are all kinds of alterations and changes in the organism.

Among the many physical symptoms that the person may experience include:

  • Elevation of the cardiac rate.
  • Increase in the respiratory rate .
  • Sensation of suffocation, suffocation or shortness of breath.
  • Increase in muscle tension
  • Headaches .
  • Gastric alterations and stomach pains.
  • Increased sweating
  • Vertigo and feeling dizzy .
  • Nausea and / or vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness or fainting

2. Cognitive symptoms

In the company of physical symptoms, emetophobia is also distinguished by the presence of a whole repertoire of cognitive symptoms, among which are included thoughts, beliefs and imaginations about the possible dangers or damages that vomiting or the act of vomiting can lead.

The development of these deformed ideas and beliefs appear irrationally and uncontrollably, driving the advance of this phobia. To these ideas are added a series of mental images of a catastrophic nature that flood the mind of the person.

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3. Behavioral symptoms

Finally, the effect of cognitive symptoms is reflected in the appearance of a series of behavioral symptoms. In this case, the symptomatology related to the behavior of the person is manifested through avoidance behaviors and escape behaviors .

The avoidance behaviors are all those behaviors that the person carries out in order to avoid the phobic stimulus. In this case, the individual may refuse to eat, eat excessively slowly or only selected foods or refuse to go to a place where they may witness something related to vomiting.

As for the escape behaviors, these appear when the person has not been able to avoid encountering any event related to vomiting, so he will carry out all kinds of behaviors that allow him to escape from the situation as soon as possible.

What are the causes?

Although trying to discover the specific origin of a phobia is a rather complicated task, in the case of emetofobia a large number of patients refer to the experience of very unpleasant or dramatic situations in which the vomit or the act of vomiting appeared from a way or another.

However, there are many other cases in which the person is not able to associate this fear with any traumatic experience , so it is hypothesized that there are other factors that can play an important role in the development and appearance of a phobia such as a genetic predisposition or learning by imitation.

Is there a treatment?

In those cases in which the phobia can become highly annoying or even dangerous, the patient can resort to psychological intervention, which can help reduce the intensity of symptoms to the point of making them disappear .

Although there are many interventions and psychological therapies that, carried out by a professional in psychology, can be effective. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the one that reports better and faster results.

This type of therapy usually includes three types of different and complementary actions. On the one hand we find the cognitive restructuring, thanks to which the person manages to modify their distorted thoughts and beliefs.

In addition, live exposure or systematic desensitization techniques are used by means of which the person faces gradually the phobic stimulus , either live or using the imagination.

Finally, this is accompanied by a training in relaxation skills that reduces the levels of excitation of the nervous system and favors the person to face the dreaded situation or object.


Emetophobia what is it & how do we treat it? (May 2024).


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