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Emetophobia and OCD

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Image source: Annie Spratt via Unsplash

If you suffer from emetophobia, you might be wondering about potential links to any other medical conditions. This includes obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, a syndrome which, though distinct from emetophobia, shares several similarities with it.

In this article, we’ll cover some of the symptoms common to both emetophobia and OCD, and explore the links between the two. We’ll also show you how you can minimise the impact of these conditions on your everyday routine and live a fuller, happier life.

What is emetophobia?

Emetophobia is the term used to describe a fear of vomiting. More specifically, it is a specific phobia, which, according to the Mayo Clinic’s definition, refers to a level of fear that is both overwhelming and disproportionate to the actual risks posed by a given situation or object.

The degree with which people with emetophobia fear vomit and/or the act of vomiting is often severe. This leads them to experience a number of symptoms, including:

  • Physical reactions, such as shaking, sweating and a rapid heartbeat
  • Emotional reactions, such as distress and anger
  • Avoidance of scenarios with an increased risk of vomiting oneself or seeing someone else vomit, which can lead to reduced social interaction with others
  • Obsessive behaviours, such as checking repeatedly if food is still fresh, excessively washing one’s hands, or even refraining from saying the word ‘vomit’

While no one wants to be sick, the measures taken by people with emetophobia go beyond simple precautions. Without help, this fear can end up severely restricting sufferers’ lifestyles, as well as taking a real toll on their mental and physical health.

To learn more about the symptoms and causes of a fear of vomiting, read our What Is Emetophobia? article.

What is OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is classified by the NHS and mental health charity Mind as a form of anxiety disorder. Though people with OCD may experience the condition differently, it primarily revolves around obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.

  • An obsession is a recurring unwanted thought that brings about negative emotions, such as anxiety and disgust.
  • Compulsions are actions taken, generally repeatedly, in an attempt to ward off one’s obsessive thoughts. However, the respite provided is short-lived, and failing to carry out these behaviours can lead to further feelings of unease.

OCD isn’t always severe, and some less significant obsessive thoughts may cause an individual nothing more than a minor annoyance every now and then. However, without appropriate help, the need to perform compulsions can begin to have a major impact on your quality of life.

Potential complications associated with OCD can include increased anxiety, feelings of loneliness or shame, disruptions to one’s daily routine and strained relationships with others. You may also avoid certain activities or objects that trigger your obsessive thoughts.

How are emetophobia and OCD linked?

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Image source: Bryson Hammer via Unsplash

As you may be able to tell from the information given above, there are some notable parallels between emetophobia and OCD. This includes, for example, the need to perform certain actions repeatedly so as to reassure oneself, as well as avoidant behaviours followed to prevent coming into contact with feared objects or situations.

Some medical professionals believe that certain cases of emetophobia are better diagnosed as OCD rather than as a specific phobia due to the symptoms experienced. For example, Allen H. Weg mentions a patient who avoided wearing the colour green after having done so whilst watching someone else vomiting.

Meanwhile, Steven Seay believes that emetophobia can be an expression of a patient’s underlying OCD. This is particularly the case for those who are afraid of vomiting in any situation, whether in public or private, and who believe that they are unable to cope with doing so. However, he contrasts this with individuals whose fear solely concerns public vomiting, which he considers more likely to be driven by agoraphobia or social anxiety.

It is also relatively common for an individual to have both conditions. In a study conducted by Veale et al, OCD was found to be the most frequent comorbidity for those with a specific phobia of vomiting, affecting around 12% of participants. Meanwhile, Lisa Fritscher wrote that, of all the emetophobia patients she had worked with, “every one of them has some pieces of an OCD diagnosis”.

Are emetophobia and OCD the same thing?

Given the multitude of links between the two conditions, researchers have suggested that emetophobia may be best understood when viewed through the lens of obsessive-compulsive and related disorders. However, this does not mean that it is the same as OCD.

While many of the behaviours practised by people with emetophobia strongly resemble the compulsions brought on by obsessive-compulsive disorder, OCD is just one of a range of possible root causes.

As noted above, some emetophobic individuals only or primarily fear public instances of vomiting. Cases such as this may be thought of as more closely related to social phobias and anxieties, with the worry that they may be judged by those around them. Alternatively, if their fear is driven by the thought that they could not escape the situation, it may be an expression of agoraphobia.

Emetophobia can develop spontaneously, but it’s also common for individuals to have experienced a traumatic event in their past linked to the act of vomiting. They may, for example, have thrown up in public, had severe food poisoning, or have previously been vomited on.

Getting help for emetophobia and OCD

If you have both emetophobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder, you might expect the road to recovery to be exceptionally difficult. However, many of the treatments used to cover one of these two conditions work well for both, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), exposure and response prevention (ERP) and the prescription of certain medications, such as SSRIs.

If you feel that either emetophobia or OCD is affecting your daily life, it’s important to get the help you need. At EmetoGo, our expert specialists are trained in a range of approaches that can help you to process your thoughts and feelings and start regaining control. Contact us today to begin your road to recovery.