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

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Currently there are registered an infinity of 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 to involve serious health consequences, 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 talk about throughout this article and which may be associated with anorexia and severe weight loss. Next, we will describe its main characteristics, symptoms, causes and possible treatments.

  • Related article: "Types of Phobias: Exploring Fear Disorders"

What is phagophobia?

Phagophobia falls into 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 at the appearance of a specific stimulus. In this case fear is experienced at the act of swallowing.

Like the rest of anxiety disorders caused by a specific stimulus, the person suffering from phagophobia experiences a strong fear reaction, accompanied by the

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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 fear disproportionate to the actual threat posed by the stimulus.
  • Is about a completely irrational fear. On many occasions, the patient himself is unable to find a logical explanation to justify his fear.
  • It is an uncontrollable fear, so the person is unable to avoid the appearance 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 You can suffer severe complications related to a poor diet. In some cases, phagophobia can lead to disinterest in food, severe weight loss, or anorexia.

  • You may be interested: "Types of Anxiety Disorders and their characteristics"

Differences with other phobias

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

In both cases, the physical symptoms can be confused with those of other conditions such as dysgaphy and odynophagia, in which the person suffers a psychological alteration that makes it impossible to swallow or makes it very painful.

What symptoms does he manifest?

Because phagophobia is classified within the category of specific phobias, its symptoms are similar to those of the rest of anxiety disorders of this type. The clinical picture of an anxious nature is characterized by the appearance of physical, cognitive and behavioral symptoms each time the person must face the dreaded act, in this case swallowing.

On some occasions, the phobia may be so deeply ingrained that the patient manifests the symptoms only when thinking or imagining that he is swallowing any food, drink or even medication.

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

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 dreaded stimulus. As a consequence of this increase in functioning, all kinds of alterations and changes in the body can appear.

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.
  • Gastric disorders and stomach pains.
  • Increased sweating
  • Dizziness or feeling dizzy.
  • Nausea and / or vomiting.
  • Fainting.

2. Cognitive symptoms

In addition to the physical symptoms, phagophobia is also characterized by the presence of a series of cognitive symptoms that are manifested through thoughts, beliefs and speculations regarding possible dangers that may appear or are related to the fact of 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 manifests 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 experiencing 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 he sees himself wrapped.

What causes does it have?

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

Despite this, it is known that there are various factors that can predispose or enhance the onset and development of an anxiety disorder of these characteristics. This 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 highly traumatic situation or event or with a great burden emotional.

These factors or the possibility of vicarious or imitation learning can most likely trigger 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 undergoes an intervention that reduces the intensity of the symptoms and even causes them to remit due to full.

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

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

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

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

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