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Emetophobia

Fear of Vomiting

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Updated September 18, 2009

Emetophobia, or fear of vomiting, is surprisingly common. The phobia can begin at any age, although many adults have suffered for as long as they can remember. Emetophobia may be related to other fears, such as fear of food, as well as conditions such as eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Causes of Emetophobia

The fear of vomiting is often, but not always, triggered by a negative experience with vomiting. Although cases of stomach flu, overindulging in alcohol and food poisoning happen to everyone, it is easy to feel alone. The risk of emetophobia may be higher if you remember vomiting in public or experiencing a long night of uncontrollable vomiting.

Some experts believe that emetophobia may be linked to worries about lack of control. Many people try to control themselves and their environment in every possible way, but vomiting is difficult or impossible to control. It sometimes happens at times and in places that are embarrassing or inconvenient, which can be highly distressing.

Symptoms of Emetophobia

Interestingly, most people with emetophobia rarely, if ever, vomit. Some sufferers report that they have not thrown up since childhood. Yet they constantly worry that it might happen.

If you have emetophobia, you may have developed certain behavioral patterns or even obsessions in an effort to keep yourself safe. You might be most comfortable in a particular room of your home, or even outside. You might sleep with a towel next to you in case you are ill overnight. You probably feel compelled to learn the most direct path to a restroom in any new building. You may be extremely anxious about long car trips. Many sufferers report that they feel safer when they do all the driving. Some are reluctant to carry passengers, who might see them vomit if they cannot reach a restroom in time.

Many emetophobia sufferers experience frequent nausea and digestive upsets. These are extremely common symptoms of anxiety, and can lead to a self-replicating cycle. You are afraid to vomit, and the fear causes nausea and stomach pain. This makes you feel like vomiting, which in turn makes you more afraid. Research indicates that this cycle may be the result in hypervigilent sensitivity to gastrointestinal symptoms and misappraisal of nausea and other GI symptoms.

Complications of Emetophobia

Over time, you might develop additional fears or obsessions. Cibophobia, or fear of food, is common among many with emetophobia. You may worry that foods are not cooked or stored properly, thus leading to possible food poisoning. You might begin to severely restrict your diet or refuse to eat until you are completely full. Many sufferers feel that being full can lead to nausea and vomiting. In extreme cases, you might even develop tendencies toward anorexia.

Many people with emetophobia develop social anxiety or even agoraphobia. You might be reluctant to spend time with people for fear of vomiting in front of them. Alternately, you may be afraid that someone will vomit in front of you. It is not unusual to become highly afraid of other people’s vomit as well as your own.

Treating Emetophobia

Emetophobia can be somewhat complicated to diagnose and treat, since many people simultaneously experience other phobias and anxiety disorders. Therefore, it is important to work with a trusted therapist with a broad range of experience. See “Finding a Therapist.”

for tips and suggestions.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help you confront your fears and replace your negative thoughts regarding vomiting. Hypnosis and relaxation techniques can help to reduce the feelings and symptoms of anxiety. Medications may be indicated in some cases.

Although it will take a great deal of work, emetophobia can be defeated. There is no reason that your life must be controlled by this powerful but treatable phobia.

Sources:

American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

International Emetophobia Society. “What Is Emetophobia?” December 31, 2008. http://www.emetophobia.org/emetophobia%20fear%20of%20vomiting.asp

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