What is Anginophobia? (An Overview)
In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Anginophobia.
Anginophobia is an intense fear of having an angina, choking or narrowness. The sensations felt when choking are very uneasy and no one likes it. The difficulty in breathing is what one fears.
It is normal for one to assume they might be suffering from a heart disease if they develop specific symptoms for it. But, excess anxiety and recurrent thoughts of an angina attack causing death by turning into a heart attack or amplifying worry if experiencing chest pain, despite being healthy is specific to Anginophobia.
Sufferers have a constant feeling of palpitations, increased heart rate and or chest pain. This is because they fear they might die of angina.
Someone suffering from this specific phobia feels extreme anxiety when exposed to a situation one might have an angina or choke. Because Anginophobia comes under the category of anxiety disorders in the DSM-V, one gets extremely anxious at the mere thought of angina, choking or narrowness.
These overwhelmingly high levels of anxiety cause hindrances in the sufferers day-to-day activities. According to the DSM-V, hurdles in one’s daily activities are called social and occupational dysfunction.
Repetitive avoidance, caused by anxiety is what leads to this dysfunction. For example, one will avoid eating medicines and or certain foods (such as nuts, bread etc) for the fear that they might choke. In the worst case scenario, drinking water can also be traumatizing because they develop an intense fear of being choked.
One will avoid running because of the fear that an increase in blood pressure can result in an angina attack. They will assume every minute pain in the chest or left arm to be a sign of an impending angina attack.
Sufferers will exercise in excess or eat almost no food in the strive to remain healthy (and also to avoid choking as mentioned above). This can cause one to develop eating disorders.
Anginophobia can also cause the sufferer to develop a fear of eating (Cibophobia), fear of medicines (Pharmacophobia) and or fear of drinking water (Aquaphobia) because they are afraid of getting choked or of angina, if they consume certain foods/medicines.
One will prefer staying near a hospital so in case of an emergency (angina, choking or narrowness) they can get immediate medical help.
These avoidances and social occupational dysfunction can make the sufferer feel safe and pleasant. This sense of security maintains their phobia because it proves to them that their fear stimulus is dangerous and threatening.
Though, these feelings are short-lived. In the future, an individual is very likely to develop OCD and or depression.
An individual suffers from misery, which can give rise to full-blown panic attacks if exposed to his fear stimuli. One may require hospitalization as a result.
Anginophobia is an abnormal, persistent fear of angina, choking or narrowing of the throat. It is a type of specific phobia which is a part of anxiety disorders.
Symptoms of Anginophobia
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders-5th Edition (DSM-V) suggests a number of symptoms one suffers from in all specific phobias, including Anginophobia.
This irrational fear of angine, choking or narrowness is a part of anxiety disorders, thus anxiety is it’s focal symptom. It aggravates other physiological symptoms, such as heart rate, breathing rate and one’s mood. These symptoms persuade the repetitive acts of avoidance as mentioned earlier.
Because each individual experiences Anginophobia differently (based on their past experiences), one will suffer from more severe symptoms , as compared to someone else.
According to the DSM-V, anxiety that one experiences in Anginophobia should last for at least 6-months. Other than this, one should also suffer from 3-5 symptoms for the list mentioned below.
- Excessive anxiety when exposed to angina, choking or narrowness
- Excessive anxiety when thinking about angina, choking or narrowness
- Inability to manage anxiety
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Avoiding situations in which one might have angina or choke
- Increased heart beat
- Muscle tension
- Feelings of dizziness/fainting
- Feeling depressed
- Fear of an impending doom
- Excessive sweating
- Hot/cold flashes
- Butterflies in the stomach
- Drying up of the mouth
Causes of Anginophobia
It is argued that all anxiety disorders, including specific phobias have no real cause. They are caused by either a genetic predisposition and or environmental factors.
According to the genetic/biological model, specific phobias are developed due to a genetic predisposition. Someone who has a family history of anxiety disorder has a higher chance of developing Anginophobia. This is because any alteration in the genes of his parents will be transferred to him.
This genetic tendency to develop a specific phobia is further explained by the Diathesis-stress relationship. This suggests that someone with a genetic predisposition will develop Anginophobia only in the presence of the correct environmental trigger event.
Those environmental trigger events refer to the past-traumatic experiences associated with one’s fear stimuli. For example one might have developed Anginophobia because of the near to death experience he had in his childhood when he choked. Someone who has experienced the terrifying, uneasy sensations felt when choking will fear it.
Someone who already suffers from hypertension or other heart related problems will be extremely conscious of their health and the activities that may lead to more severe problems. They will get extremely traumatized even at the slightest pain in the chest or an increase in blood pressure.
Also, someone who has a family history of heart disease is likely to develop them in the future. Therefore, they will have a constant fear of having angina.
Additionally, watching or listening to someone else’s unpleasant experience with choking can also cause Anginophobia. An individual who lost their loved one’s or heard someone die of angina are very likely to have this irrational fear.
Also, someone who had overprotective parents has a higher chance of suffering from this phobia because parents warn their children to be safe while eating to avoid getting choked and face its consequences.
An individual with Illness Anxiety Disorder (IAD) is very likely to get afraid of any slight pain in the chest or change in their heart functioning. Thus, have a higher chance of developing Anginophobia.
Therefore, Anginophobia is a result of both genetics and environmental factors.
Treatment of Anginophobia
Anginophobia, like all other specific phobias, has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it. Like all the other specific phobias, Anginophobia is treated by a number of different ways,including psychotherapies and biological treatment to lower anxiety.
- Psychological Treatment
• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It is one of the most frequently used treatments for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders. Anginophobia is defined as the irrational fear of angina, choking or narrowness. Thus, the therapist helps the patient in replacing these irrational thoughts with more rational ones.
The patients are helped out in analyzing and justifying the way they feel about their fear stimuli. Therapists assist them in uncovering the reasons behind their fear and later they provide them with alternate, pleasant thoughts.
The patient is told to maintain a thought diary (with ABCD column) which provides them a replacement for every irrational thought they have, when thinking about a particular situation. The ABCD stands for:
i. A (antecedents) a situation or triggering event.
ii. B (belief) the thought that comes to one’s mind when in that triggering situation.
iii. C (consequences) the symptoms/feelings caused by that event/thought
iv. D (dispute) alternate, rational thoughts provided by the therapist in an attempt to dispute/challenge those irrational beliefs.
This last section of the thought diary is what really plays a role in helping the person feel good/less anxious.
They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Anginophobia, instead they are one of the most common ways of relaxation used by many people. Yoga tends to stimulate the meditative state of one’s mind while the person is in a particular yoga posture. Through yoga/meditation the mind is diverted towards something more productive and calm, allowing the person to escape the negative, distress causing thoughts.
Out of a number of yoga types, one can benefit from any yoga type/pose they like. Hatha yoga is one of the different types of yoga. The breathing techniques or the imagery one creates while in a yoga posture are the real factors that makes the person feel less anxious and diverts their mind, away from the thoughts about their fear stimuli.
• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This is another effective therapy used to treat Anginophobia. It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients suffering from this type of specific phobia. Coping skills are taught in the DBT group which lasts for about 6-months and can have a number of people (depending on how many join the group).
i.Half-smiling is the first module of DBT. It is a technique that is used with patients who are distressed because of their irrational thoughts. The technique is known as ‘Half-smiling’ because the person is first advised to think about the stimuli that fears or upsets them, and while doing so they are told to lift the corners of their mouths by subtly smiling. Smiling is not that will help one get rid of these unpleasant thoughts, it is the person’s ability to constrain itself from thinking about those thoughts while half smiling.
ii.Mindfulness, the second module, is another technique used in DBT groups which helps the individual in getting rid of those negative thoughts. Individuals are told to focus on the present and be attentive to what is going on around them at the moment. This helps in breaking the link between their mind and any negative thought that might come to them then. For example, a person is told to focus on his breath or on the sound of the wind around them, making use of their auditory sense.
iii.The third technique or module of the DBT is distress tolerance skills. This module teaches people to calm themselves down in healthy ways when they are distressed or emotionally overwhelmed. Individuals are allowed to make wise, rational decisions and take immediate action, rather than being captured by emotionally destructive thoughts that might make the situation worse. Reality acceptance skills are also learnt under this model so that people fully accept reality and later make plans on how to address the problem.
• Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR is a meditation therapy, used to manage stress or anxiety. It is an 8-week program which includes group sessions. Mindfulness meditation and Hatha yoga are practiced in these sessions. Lectures and group discussions are also done to talk about mental health and increase interactivity.
In mindfulness meditation the person is told to, for example, focus on the sensations felt while breathing or the rhythm of the chest rising and falling during the process. This distracts the person’s attention from something stressful to something which is neutral and soothing.
For quick and effective treatment, patients are also given a set of home works, for example 45 minutes of yoga and meditation sessions for 6 days a week and to record their results/feelings in a book or diary for 15 minutes a day.
- Biological Treatment
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Anginophobia. Drugs are very quick in effectiveness, as they start showing progress in the patients’ health at least 2 weeks after the medicine is taken.
This type of biological treatment is usually more effective if the cause of phobia is only genetic. However, these drugs/medicines are not to be taken without a doctor’s prescription or consultation.
Two types of drugs are used in the treatment of this phobia:
i. Anti-anxiety Drugs
These include medicines like Klonopin. They are most commonly used with patients who experience panic attacks and also lowers the anxiety by binding to receptor cells of the brain that cause these unpleasant symptoms.
ii. Antidepressant Drugs
These drugs as the name suggests don’t only treat depression but are also very effective in treating phobias. Medicines like Lexapro reduce the anxious feelings of a person and makes him feel calm. They need to be taken on a daily basis but not without a doctor’s advice.
Whether the cause of Anginophobia, or any other type of specific phobia is genetics, environmental or both, the best and the most effective way of treating them is by using a combination of both biological treatments (drugs) with cognitive treatment (for example CBT/exposure therapy).
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) How do I get over my fear of angina and or choking?
Cognitive therapies like CBT, EMDR and or medicinal drugs are effective ways of treating one’s anxiety.
Q2) Is it anxiety or a heart problem?
Anxiety and heart attack have a few similar symptoms like breathlessness, increased blood pressure, muscle tension. But, heart attack is a health problem.
Q3) How would you know if you are having a heart attack?
Tightness in the chest, nausea, breathlessness and fatigue are a few symptoms experienced when having a heart attack.
Q4) Does fear cause a heart attack?
Fear can cause heart attacks only to the people who are already at risk of having a heart disease or suffer from hypertension (increased blood pressure).