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New Emirates Medical Journal

ISSN (Online): 0250-6882

Review Article

Pediatric Phagophobia: A Systematic Review and a Case Report of Pharmacological Interventions

Author(s): Haidar AlAbdullah*, Abdulmohsin Almulhim and Ammar Albanna

Volume 5, 2024

Published on: 16 August, 2023

Article ID: e220623218146 Pages: 11

DOI: 10.2174/0250688204666230622100605



Background: Phagophobia is characterized by conditioned excessive fear of swallowing or choking that is usually triggered by an incident. It usually leads to avoidance of certain types of food or, in severe forms, a complete refusal to eat solid food and/or liquids. The condition is commonly associated with physical and psychological symptoms impacting the health condition of the individual due to deprivation of essential nutrients.

Case Presentation: A 12-year-old boy developed acute onset fear of swallowing (Phagophobia) following a dream he had of someone choking. This was exacerbated by watching an online video of a person choking. This has led to an avoidance of solid food and dependence on soft food and liquids. Fear of swallowing along with food avoidance has led to malnutrition, weight loss, and several physical complaints for which the patient was admitted under pediatric care. A course of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) resulted in limited response and was augmented with fluoxetine. Full remission was achieved within six weeks.

Methods: A systematic review of all peer-reviewed English literature was performed for articles related to the pharmacological treatment of pediatric phagophobia (0-18 years) following the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis (PRISMA) guidelines.

Results: A total of 17 case reports were identified describing 17 children with phagophobia (females = 70%). The mean age was 9.3 and the average was between 2 and 15 years who were diagnosed with choking phobia/ phagophobia or different but equivalent diagnoses like Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder or Post Traumatic Feeding Disorder. Different classes of medications were used in variable doses for different durations which were associated with significant improvement in eating patterns and reduction in fear and anxiety associated with eating.

Conclusion: Phagophobia is a serious and potentially life-threatening illness that can cause physical complications and functional impairment in the psychosocial aspect. Pharmacological treatment can be a beneficial and safe option either alone or in combination with therapeutic interventions for children presenting with phagophobia.

Keywords: Phagophobia, Choking phobia, ARFID, Children, Adolescents, Antipsychotics, Antidepressants.

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