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

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

January 17, 2022

Currently there are countless specific phobias related to all kinds of objects, behaviors, people or situations; some of them more unusual than others. Although most phobias do not always have serious consequences for health, there are specific cases in which they can end up causing other types of conditions much more severe.

This is the case of phagophobia , which we will discuss throughout this article and that may be associated with cases of anorexia and serious weight loss. Next, we will describe what are its main characteristics, symptoms, causes and possible treatments.

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What is phagophobia?

Phagophobia is within the category of specific anxiety disorders, also called specific phobias. Like the rest of phobias, it is characterized by the appearance of serious episodes of fear and anxiety before the appearance of a specific stimulus. In this case Fear is experienced before the act of swallowing .


Like the rest of anxiety disorders caused by a specific stimulus, the person suffering from phagophobia experiences a strong reaction of fear, accompanied by the physical manifestations of very high anxiety states .

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

  • The person experiences a fear and disproportionate fear compared to the real threat that the stimulus supposes.
  • Is about a completely irrational fear . On many occasions, the patient himself is unable to find a logical explanation that justifies his fear.
  • It is an uncontrollable fear, so the person is unable to prevent the onset of phobic symptoms.
  • It is stable over time. Although it only manifests itself before the appearance or imagination of the phobic stimulus, the person maintains the phobia over time.

As a consequence and if no type of treatment is received, the patient can suffer severe complications related to a deficit diet . In some cases, phagophobia can lead to lack of interest in food, serious weight loss or anorexia.


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Differences with other phobias

Occasionally, phagophobia is confused with other types of specific phobia such as pnigophobia or excessive fear of choking or choking. Although they may seem very similar, and both are linked to the act of swallowing, in phagophobia the phobic stimulus is the mere act of swallowing, while in the pnigofobia the fear lies in the possibility of choking and drowning as a result of swallowing.

In both cases, 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 makes it impossible to swallow or makes it very painful.

What symptoms does it manifest?

Because phagophobia is classified within the category of specific phobias, its symptomatology is similar to that of the rest of anxiety disorders of this type . The clinical picture of anxious nature is characterized by the appearance of physical, cognitive and behavioral symptoms every time the person must face the feared act, in this case swallow.


In some cases, the phobia may be so strongly ingrained that the patient manifests the symptoms only by thinking or imagining that he is swallowing any food, drink or even medication.

Therefore, in the phagobobia the following symptoms will appear, which are arranged by categories:

1. Physical symptoms

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

When this physical symptomatology appears the person can experience:

  • Increase in heart rate .
  • Increase in the respiratory rate.
  • Sensation of suffocation, suffocation or shortness of breath.
  • Increase in muscle tension
  • Headache .
  • Gastric alterations and stomach pains.
  • Increased sweating
  • Vertigo or feeling dizzy .
  • 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 manifested through thoughts, beliefs and speculations in relation to the possible dangers which may appear or be related to swallowing or swallowing.

These distorted or irrational ideas and beliefs drive the development of this phobia and are distinguished because the person integrates a series of illogical thoughts and imaginations that are constantly maintained in his mind.

3. Behavioral symptoms

Finally, like the rest of phobias, phagophobia also presents a series of behavioral symptoms. This symptomatology related to the behavior of the person is manifested through avoidance behaviors and escape behaviors .

In avoidance behaviors, the person carries out all kinds of acts or behaviors with the main objective of avoid encountering the phobic stimulus . With them, he manages to avoid the experimentation of feelings of anguish and anxiety that this situation generates.

However, in the case of escape behaviors, these appear when the person has not been able to avoid the appearance of the feared situation, so he will perform any kind of act or conduct necessary to escape the situation in which go wrapped

What causes does it have?

Discovering the origin of a phobia can be a really complicated task, since in many occasions the person himself is not able to determine what experience may have conditioned the appearance of such fear.

Despite this, it is known that there are several factors that can predispose or enhance the onset and development of an anxiety disorder of these characteristics. It is the case of the existence of a genetic predisposition that aggravates the effects that anxiety has on the person, accompanied by the experience of a situation or highly traumatic event or with a great emotional burden.

These factors or the possibility of a vicarious learning or by imitation can trigger, very likely the appearance of this 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 undergo an intervention that reduces the intensity of the symptoms and even causes them to completely remit.

There are a series of psychological treatments that can get the person to improve considerably. These interventions include three types of different and complementary actions.

The first consists of an intervention through cognitive restructuring, which allows to modify all those distorted thoughts and beliefs that the person possesses in relation to the act of swallowing.

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

In order to decrease the physical symptoms of the confrontation to the feared situation, a training in relaxation skills is carried out that allows to reduce the levels of excitation of the nervous system and helps the person to face their fears in an effective way.


Difficulty Swallowing - quick fix (January 2022).


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