Anxiety Causing Swallowing Problems? - Anxiety Support

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Anxiety Causing Swallowing Problems?

SweetPoffin profile image

(I hope I'm posting this correctly; I've been browsing this site for a while but I just made an account. Also this is going to be super long, I'm sorry!)

Hi! I'm a 24 year old female, and I've lived most of my life with severe anxiety and hypochondria due to a traumatic childhood experience. Over the last year, I've had a recurring kidney infection, which has thrown me into full panic-mode quite a bit, but it's gone now. I'm sure the doctor is sick to death of me, but that's all beside the point.

When I was having some UTI-related anxiety, I was eating some thick soup and noticed I had a bit of trouble swallowing it. Sometimes that happens to me with warm liquids, so I wasn't too concerned, but I somehow choked on it and had to wheezily gasp for breath. It was scary. Ever since then, I think about it every time I eat. It was manageable for a while, but over the last week, it's been awful. It's hard to describe, but it feels as if my throat closes up when I begin to swallow (almost like it's saying 'wait! I'm not ready to swallow yet'), and sometimes that sensation makes me feel like I'm swallowing my tongue or will choke, and I panic. It's so bad, I'm barely able to eat at all, even soft foods are extremely difficult to eat. I can normally manage cereal in the morning, but anything else is iffy at best. I've been drinking Ensure as well, but I'm terrified that I'm going to starve and not be able to do anything about it. I know this is likely caused by anxiety, but I feel powerless and don't know what to do. I started taking Buspar yesterday for this, which was prescribed during my UTI, but I'm scared nothing will help. I feel trapped and I've spent all day shaking and crying. Does anyone else know what I'm talking about, or am I going crazy?

25 Replies

A very common anxiety symptom and one I have spells of quite often. The more you think about swallowing the harder it gets - I know I've been there!

Of course I'm not a doctor - just commenting on my experience as a long-term anxiety and health anxiety sufferer.

Me too. I don't understand the process involved but I've had the same problem for most of my life, intermittently. There is something about anxiety which often affects the throat muscles . . . . .

. . . . have you ever seen those cartoons where a character is suddenly faced with fear ; a classic way of depicting it is to show the character take a take an enormous gulp !

You're obviously a tense person. Next time you are unusually tense, observe your throat & neck muscles ; I bet you'll find they're pretty tight.

Worrying will exacerbate it so the key is relaxing . . . . . . . easier said then done I know.

Take care x

Scottiebabe29 profile image
Scottiebabe29 in reply to cat3

Hello. I also experience this too. It is very worrying and I think it makes it worse the more you think of it. It is frightening. I am just starting to feel like this again after 6months of having no horrible symptoms of panic and anxiety.... It is a horrible

Feeing to have.

Hi like the other comments I too had a terrible experience with " throat anxiety" and I know how you feel it is do frightening if it's the first time experiencing it. 6 years ago I felt like I chocked on a bit of pizza then every time I ate it felt like my throat would close and that my food was stuck, I stopped eating all together and relyed on ensure drinks. I lost so much weight, went down to 5 stone! And that made it all so much more unbearable being so weak all the time. It only lasted a few months for me and when my medication settled I got better.

Only to get anxiety back 6 years later and the dreaded "throat anxiety" this time I knew it only to well and after a week or so I told myself that this is just an effect of my anxiety and although it's unpleasnt my food will not get stuck and i will not choke. I just chew more and drink water with meals and relax and read something while I eat and I get though my meals then think afterwords oh I ate that no problem.

See if this will work for you,

Take care x

Mine started with an h. Pylori infection which produced severe reflux. I had a terrible time swallowing food and having some get stuck in my throat. I too switched to Ensure because I was afraid to eat. I'm being tested for hormonal imbalance

Because I'm having debilitating anxiety. I have trouble eating, but I try to read or focus on other things while I eat and can eat portions of food, now. I always have water handy, though with food (sorry. I hit submit before I finished)

Yep I have done this even when to have an ultrasound on my throat and thyroid

I have been having problems swallowing now for about 4 weeks. I am so scared, I don't know if it's in my head or if there is really something more wrong then what my ENT told me. He diagnosed me with GERD and have been on meds now for 5 weeks. Along with this I have been experiencing bad anxiety which I have never really had. Now when I try to swallow It's like there is this hesitation and it takes me a few trys sometimes to swallow my spit. I also have this thick like saliva feeling in my throat sometimes and then other times it feels so dry that I can barley swallow. Then when I do pain follows down my right neck. I am so scared, is there anyone out there that has felt like this. Can GERD cause all of this?

kilo76 profile image
kilo76 in reply to Maine66

I'm not sure if you're feeling better; but this sounds like phagophobia ( fear of eating) , usually caused by stress. You are not alone. I've been experiencing this for years; I have good days and bad. Medication has helped. I've heard that cognitive behavioral therapy can be helpful. I'm thinking about trying that.

Jkel profile image
Jkel in reply to Maine66

Hi.. I've just read your thread and I have exactly all the same symptoms as you had. I could of wrote it.. i am just wondering if you found a cure please. I have been frightened to eat for over 5 week.. thank you, any advice would be greatly received.

Oldtown1 profile image
Oldtown1 in reply to Jkel

I choked taking a pill about a yr ago and water was aspirated (went in my lung). I have a fear of drinking fluids now as well as eating anything. I've lost over 50lbs.

I notice I have trouble eating & recently had to throw food away because of it . I was drinking something & while the drink was going down , felt it ache while going all the way down & it's irritating . Then I get pressure in the back of my head . I burp often too while eating & drinking , because I get hungry lol I eat quick . I'm not sure if it's GERD or anxiety or a mix of the two. You're not only in this sweetie. I'm in the same age range as you too! I hope you get better . If you eventually learn of any tips on how to eat better while having this anxiety , let me know ..message me & if I find out tips , I'll tell you the same :)

I have been living with this for exactly 3 years. I have done many tests and the doctors can't seem to find anything wrong with me. It happened once when I was 17-18 for a couple of months but now I'm afraid that it's here to stay, maybe :)

It is really difficult to find information on the subject or get a clear diagnosis as there are a lot of illnesses that can cause this problem of swallowing. To name a few I have read up - MS (Multiple Sclerosis), Parkinson's Disease, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), Thyroid Gland problems ....and many more. So, how do you rule out which it is? There are tests you can get done for each one, but who has a lifetime, right?

Don't mean to scare you further. It most probably is anxiety and stress. However, I don't plan to use and drugs given some of their side-effects. So exercise and lots of physical activity is my list of things to do, along with meditation and vitamin B complex.

This is a debilitating thing and I know it has ruined my social life as I can no longer go out to lunch or dinner with friends and family. It's embarrassing and not pretty at times as I often have to spit the food out in my hand.

I wish you all the best and hope you find your way with it.

I am suffering from this as we speak. Throat an anxiety on top of everything else. For the last 8 weeks Everytime eat it feels like it's getting stuck or had gotten stuck.

I have had a scope and my doctor said my esophagus and everything is 100% perfect.

I also did the same thing bought a bunch of ensure drinks. I have just about had it with anxiety and stress. It's ruining my life and my wallet

I've also been suffering from this for about 6 weeks. Endoscopy and swallowing tests all normal. It's good to know I am not alone in this but I don't know how to control the stress and anxiety. It's taken over my life

I decided 9 days ago to start prozac. Even tho it's not working yet I'm holding hope that it will all work out. I've started probiotics, b12 supplements and raw organic. apple cider vinegar and multivitamin to keep myself healthy during this process.

I wish you all good health.

Does anyone have difficulty drinking water, milk, etc due to anxiety/tension?

I want to join in in reassuring you that you are not alone in what you are experiencing with throat anxiety. Mine developed slowly over time as a result of PTSD caused by witnessing the death of a family member that involved choking. During my first year of college I got very sick with a virus, probably whooping cough, that caused severe coughing and a tear in my throat. I also developed chronic costochondritis from the coughing which left me feeling like I couldn't breathe and was having a heart attack. My fear of choking or my throat closing up led to a somatoform type of anxiety where a visible, palpable lump actually manifested near my right parathyroid. This led to multiple doctors office and ER visits. Each time I was told that nothing was wrong. I went through every possible medical test to make sure nothing was wrong. I had an ultrasound done on my throat and the results were totally normal. Right after that the lump disappeared. No lump was visible on ultrasound or X-rays or when I had a scope done. It was finally a physical therapist who identified and proved that the lump was actually a knot of muscle, originating in my shoulders, face and neck that my mind was causing through the constant anxiety. I still have to constantly remind myself to relax my muscles as I am always "bracing" for the worst through my shoulder and neck tension. What has been the most helpful is physical therapy to learn methods to relax the muscles in the throat, face, chest, neck and shoulders. Self-talk using the D.A.R.E method is also very helpful for diffusing self induced choking episodes. Lastly, mindfulness and/or loving-kindness or meta meditation, especially that taught by Zen and Thai Forest Tradition teachers, has proven for me to be the most effective and most immediate antidote to all of my anxiety issues.

I’ve been searching the web for a year, along with more doctor visits and tests and specialist referrals than I can count (about 3 appointments a week) trying to find the answer to my swallowing issues. And after reading this post, I’m wondering if it really could be anxiety. I don’t feel any fear of eating and cannot recall any traumatic experience with food, so because of that, my doctors haven’t even considered anxiety being the culprit. But all tests are negative, and I’ve had the gambit of them. I have the issue of hesitation when swallowing and have had to spit out food that my body just refuses to swallow. No choking, food isn’t getting stuck, it’s simply an inability to get my throat muscles to say, ok, it’s time to swallow. Eventually I can, and some days are better than others, but on a bad day it’s nearly impossible to eat, and it has become very isolating as I can’t join in on social events centered around food or even coffee with friends. So I guess my question to this community is... has anyone had this particular experience with swallowing? And was it actually anxiety despite an absence of fear or negative feelings about eating? I do have a lot of stress and believe I’m quite tense. I should note I’ve also tried meds for reflux (despite no outward symptoms of it), and that hasn’t helped. Lots of med trials this year.

Hello! I have similar symptoms as you have described. I do not have acid reflux, I’ve had a modified Barium swallow test done and an endoscopy test done both showing that everything’s “normal” and yet I still struggle initiating swallowing. I hesitate when I try, I have to wait for the “instinct” to kick in and then I can swallow. There have been times, when it’s really bad, that as I swallow the back of my throat stops/rejects my food from going down and it will sit there until I find the instinct to swallow. It’s not the sensation of food stuck in my throat, food is literally stuck in the back of my mouth/throat. It progressively got worse over 3 months to the point that I was on a liquid diet for 2 weeks and even liquids were difficult. It was during this time that I had the endoscopy done and the GI doc was hopeful the procedure would help “open up” that area but couldn’t say for sure even though the test results were normal without showing any narrowing. Since then, about 2 weeks later, I’ve been able to eat solidness again but not very well but at least I can eat solids again. I am uncertain if the endoscopy helped this or not and I am at a loss as well and have been desperately searching for answers. It seams as if anyone who posts on these forums, looking for answers and sharing their symptoms either never find answers or don’t come back to update their progress over the years.

Anyone out there find their answers with similar symptoms as mine! I need some direction. :)

Are you still having these symptoms?

Hello! I wondered if I would ever hear back from anyone on here. To answers that question, yes, but not as severe.

Back in July of 2018, almost overnight it seemed, I regained some of my swallowing back and progressively from then on, over the next several months, it has gotten better. As of today It’s not 100% back to normal but definitely better. I call it “the new norm” for me. I eat pretty normal, for the most part, but on occasion, but daily, I do struggle to swallow. Some foods are more difficult than others and even then some meals are harder than others. I have learned how to “re-swallow” so when I do hesitate and get food “stuck” I have learned not to panic and how to correct my swallowing by reminding myself to close the back of my throat with my tongue. Sometimes, not often, even then my throat becomes paralyzed and I can’t even talk myself through that. It’s all so bazaar but it really is so much better and someone who is watching me eat would never know I may be having difficulty. I do eat so much better at home rather than anywhere else. Something about feeling stressed trying to eat and swallow in front of others really can throw me off. In a way I get nervous.

I had further testing done back when it was still really bad, including an MRI, to rule out a stroke. I had another barium swallow test of my lower esophagus. (The modified barium swallow that I mentioned I had done in my first comment is of the upper esophagus). Everything came back “normal.” After exhausting all other options the last resort was to refer me to a specialist that would teach me how to relearn how to swallow, much like a stroke victim would have to relearn how to swallow. But at that point I was already improving and I’d have to travel 2 hours to each appointment and with 5 young children and a husband in grad school I opted out.

Please let me know if you’re experiencing the same or have any questions. It was so scary for a while for me. I’d be happy to help in any way I can.

You will be fine. I doubt you have functional Dysphagia. Just eat what you think can eat and start adding back to your normal diet by adding one by one . Or distract your self while your eating !

Anyone on here still having this issues?

I came back to this post because I had posted 3 years ago that I was having trouble initiating a swallow, and I get frustrated when I see posts like mine with no updates :) I am doing much better with the swallowing issue. It went on at its most severe form for several months, I lost a lot of weight from being unable to swallow. But like another poster said, it one day improved. And then it improved some more, and now it’s not 100% normal, but I’ve eaten well the vast majority of the time. Now the swallowing issue is episodic. I’ll have a week where it’s harder then better again. I’ve attributed the improvement to a couple of things. At the same time this happened to me, my asthma was also out of control. Taking Zyrtec every day seemed to be the turning point. I also had to admit that I do have reflux, and that seems to now be what triggers those bad weeks. I do have to be mindful to drink more while eating and to avoid things like dense bread and whole grain wheat. Trial and error. There is hope for it to improve. Most days I don’t think about it anymore. It’s a huge change from 3 years ago. I also had an MRI to rule out stroke, and my doctors have no answers to this day, but at least this is one thing that has improved without an answer. I hope one day we all get an answer, though. Medical mysteries are not fun.

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