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What is phagophobia and who does it affect?

Phagophobia is a psychological disorder that causes an irrational fear of choking that prevents the affected person from eating and can cause malnutrition and social isolation and increase the risk of depression.

 

Sitting at the table and enjoying food should be a pleasure for the vast majority of the population. Picking up the cutlery, pricking a bite, chewing, savoring the food, and swallowing is a succession of actions that we perform almost unconsciously and with hardly any importance. Still, there are people for whom the simple act of standing in front of a plate, drinking a glass of water, or trying to have a snack, is real torture because the fear of choking during this act turns into panic and prevents them from eating normally.

 

This situation, which a priori can be crazy, has its name. It is about phagophobia, “a psychological disorder that is part of anxiety disorders and that causes the phobia of eating due to the irrational fear of choking during this act, although panic may even be afraid of drowning simply because of swallow saliva,” explains Cristina Wood, Ph.D. in Psychology, a researcher at the Complutense University of Madrid and specialist in anxiety and stress disorders at the Madrid Human Area Center.

 

Profile of those affected by phagophobia

 

According to the experts, there is no defined profile of people who suffer from phagophobia. However, experts confirm that it is more common in women than in men, “perhaps because women have between two and three times more anxiety than men. For this reason, in clinical practice, we see more women in the consultation affected by this disorder. For its part, age is not very defined since it can appear from the age of six at any time, ”says Wood.

 

Regarding the characteristic personality of these patients, the psychologist warns that “they are usually an easily suggestible, very perfectionist and controlling people, which in itself causes greater anxiety. Furthermore, a relationship has been found between this pathology and the high level of stress ”, points out the psychologist.

 

The time of evolution of the phobia until going to the consultation can be very variable, ranging from five weeks to 30 years, although the average is about four years. “In general, we have observed that in adults, the time of previous evolution is greater than in children and adolescents. Patients who take longer to come to the consultation tend to suffer from incomplete swallowing phobias, which means that they avoid certain foods but continue to eat others, or when the phobia is not permanent but worsens in relation to stressors improves at other times, and there is usually no weight loss, or if there are, they are not significant.

 

It is the classic criterion used for the diagnosis of mental disorders. The degree to which the psychiatric problem interferes in the daily life of the subject ”, details the psychiatrists after analyzing the scientific evidence published in recent years.

 

Phobia prevalence

 

Phagophobia is a rare psychological disorder, and there are no official data that quantify the number of people who may suffer from it. “It is such a rare problem that there are no official records. The data we have comes from the publication of clinical cases that are studied at the university since it is still a very unknown and unusual disorder, "says Wood, who points out that this pathology can affect one in every 500 people, so its prevalence is around 0.05 of the population.

 

The lack of data complicates the study and analysis of phagophobia. "The prevalence is unknown, but it could be a fairly frequent disorder that has been increasing in recent years,"

 

However, only the description of 41 cases worldwide appears in the international scientific literature, the first being in 1978. “For this reason, it does not have its diagnostic entity in international classifications, since it appears within the mental disorders as a specific phobia within the residual category along with phobias vomiting or suffering from a disease.

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