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Swallowing Fear

Question:

Dear Dr. Schwartz I have a terrible sense of fear when I am eating or even drinking. I feel as if my body will stop me from swallowing part way through and I will choke or drown. I am 44 now and have had this complaint since I was 17. It’s terrifying but now I beginning to feel as though it is robbing me of my life. There are even times when I struggle to swallow my own saliva. It’s as if I think I’m going to swallow my tongue or something. Please help! I don’t ever remember having a bad choking experience.

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Answer:

In all probability you are suffering from a severe anxiety disorder with a good dose of hypochondriasis. Please remember, I am only guessing and cannot say this with any real certainty. What you need to do is to see either a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has a lot of experience in treating anxiety disorders or a Clincical Psychologist. Either way, you need someone who uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

The fact that you remember experiencing some of you symptoms as a teenager means that you have suffered with this anxiety disorder most of your life (depression also) and now its getting worse. For some people anxiety can act like a virus, incubating for a long time after which it suddenly springs out. I suspect that this happened to you.

It is entirely possible that, in addition to CBT you may need anti depressant medication. Because of your age and the strength of the swallowing symptoms you are experiencing, psychotherapy alone might not be enough to reduce your symptoms. I have seen this in the past with patients having similar symptoms.

Based on my past experience I can assure you that psychotherapy and medication (if needed) will help and you will not only recover but feel free of these worries.

Please do not wait to seek help. The sooner you act the sooner you will feel better.

Best of Luck

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