Emetophobia (fear Of Vomiting): Symptoms, Causes And Treatment

A type of anxiety disorder associated with the extreme fear of vomiting.


Both the act of vomiting, as the vomiting itself, are not one of the most pleasant experiences that the person can go through since, in addition, they are usually associated with other discomfort or pain. 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 lead to some 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 emetophobia, a specific type of phobia that we will talk about throughout this article.

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 who suffers from it experiences a deep fear of a specific object, person or situation.

In the specific case of emetophobia, this exacerbated fear occurs with any stimulus related to vomiting. Although anyone can express feelings of aversion towards it, in emetophobia the person experiences a deep sense of fear, which is also irrational, uncontrollable and remains over time.

The situations that can provoke this anxiety response in the person range from the act of vomiting, both their own and seeing others vomit, such as the sensation of nausea that precedes the vomiting or the vomiting itself.

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

Some of the characteristics that most people with emetophobia share include anxious personality characteristics that tend to increase their level of tension and nervousness whenever they are in places such as health centers or with 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 by consuming only foods with which they are sure not to vomit. On 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 emetophobia causes every time they go to eat, which turns this act into constant torment and suffering.

What symptoms does this phobia of fear of vomiting present?

Since emetophobia is within the classification of specific phobias or 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 both by the presence of the phobic stimulus, and by the mere imagination or mental representation of it. As a consequence, the following symptoms may appear in emetophobia, arranged 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, an overactivation of the nervous system occurs. The product of this increased functioning are all kinds of alterations and changes in the body.

Among the many physical symptoms a person may experience include:

  • Elevation of the heart rate.
  • Increased respiratory rate.
  • Feeling of suffocation, suffocation or shortness of breath.
  • Increased muscle tension.
  • Headaches.
  • Gastric disorders 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, including thoughts, beliefs and imaginations about the possible dangers or harm that vomiting or the act of vomiting can cause.

The development of these deformed ideas and beliefs appear in an irrational and uncontrollable way, 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.

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.

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 select foods, or refuse to go to a place where they may witness something related to vomiting.

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

What are the causes?

Although trying to discover the specific origin of a phobia is quite a complicated task, in the case of emetophobia, a large number of patients report experiencing very unpleasant or dramatic situations in which the vomiting or the act of vomiting appeared from a form 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 may 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 the 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. The cognitive-behavioral therapy is reporting better results and faster.

This type of therapy usually includes three different and complementary types of actions. On the one hand, we find 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 which the person gradually copes with the phobic stimulus, either live or using imagination.

Finally, this is accompanied by a training in relaxation skills that reduces the levels of excitement of the nervous system and helps the person face the feared situation or object.


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