About Emetophobia

Emetophobia, the fear of vomiting, is widespread; it is one of the most common phobias for which people consult licensed Thrive Programme Consultants. Research has suggested that prevalence of a fear of being sick ranges from 0.1 to 8.8% percent of the population (Hout & Bouman, 2011). These different figures probably depend upon whether the researchers assessed participants for any sort of ‘fear’ of vomiting or solely focused upon a severe ‘phobia’. These prevalence figures suggest that somewhere between around 63,000 and 5.5 million people in the UK suffer from emetophobia.

Emetophobia is known by many names (emetophobia, specific phobia of vomiting (SPOV), vomit phobia, sickness phobia, fear of vomiting…) and is associated with other fears and disorders, such as phagophobia (a fear of gagging, swallowing or choking), a fear of pregnancy, social anxiety and obsessional disorders. People can fear vomiting themselves and/or others vomiting. Most individuals with emetophobia are female, with research studies revealing that 85-97% of their emetophobic participants are women (Hout & Bouman, 2011; Lipsitz et al., 2001; Veale & Lambrou, 2006).

Emetophobia tends to be a severe symptom and often significantly affects sufferers’ ability to lead normal lives. People with this fear often go to great lengths to avoid encountering anything that could lead to vomiting. They may, for example, be teetotal or heavily limit their alcohol consumption and avoid pubs or clubs where others may drink heavily and then vomit. They may worry a great deal about hygiene, and be fussy about making sure everywhere is clean. They may take excessive time off work or school because they worry about being exposed to germs that will cause them to be sick.

It is also common for emetophobes to be very careful about food preparation, taking excessive care to check use by dates and to ensure that food is cooked properly. Many sufferers avoid dining out or eating food that has been prepared by others. Tocophobia, the fear or phobia of being or becoming pregnant, is another common problem for emetophobia sufferers, mainly to the worries about the morning sickness. As a result, many avoid becoming pregnant or terminate a pregnancy. Those who do have children can become consumed by worry about them being ill. They may feel completely unable to look after their children when they are unwell.

Many sufferers of emetophobia have unsuccessfully tried a range of treatments Veale and Lambrou (2006), for example, found that twenty-nine percent of their sample of vomit phobics had received some form of therapy for their fear, which overall they rated as largely ineffective. Veale and Lambrou (2006, p. 139) have stated that “clinicians generally regard it as challenging to treat because of high drop out or a poor response to treatment.”

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