Can anxiety make it difficult to swallow

Can anxiety make it difficult to swallow?

When you suffer from anxiety your body releases stress hormones that cause your muscles to contract. Stress hormones which are not used or reabsorbed can lead to the muscles of your body remaining in a tense state. Your esophagus or throat is a muscular tube and the same stress hormones that cause the muscles in your head and neck to become tense can also influence your esophagus in the same way. Because your esophagus is a hollow muscle tension in the muscle will cause the opening to close, making it difficult to swallow.

Can anxiety make it difficult to swallowIt is obvious to see why this symptom of anxiety can lead you to distress. It is usually accompanied by a lump in your throat that can make it difficult to speak and you may even fear that the lump may suffocate you. This fear of choking or suffocating will only increase your anxiety and probably worsen the symptoms even more. Difficulty in swallowing is called dysphagia in medical terms and even though it is indeed a symptom of anxiety, it can also point to a more serious underlying condition. Always see your doctor when you are in doubt.

If after your doctor’s appointment no physical explanation was found as to why you are having difficulty to swallow you should probably consider anxiety as the root of your problem. This is especially true if you have been experiencing panic attacks.

There are ways of relieving dysphagia, but if the cause of it is anxiety, you will only reap the long term benefits by treating your anxiety. Two effective types of therapy for anxiety are cognitive behavioral therapy and applied relaxation therapy. A few changes in your lifestyle may also aid in beating anxiety. As mentioned previously, you can get rid of the excess of stress hormones in your blood through exercise.

While you are overcoming your anxiety you should try the following to relieve the lump in your throat and to prevent choking:

  • Chew your food very well before swallowing and if necessary swallow your food with water.
  • Licorice extract, 250mg, taken up to three times a day, 1 hour before meals, may help to relieve the spasm caused by anxiety. It is important to know that it may cause high blood pressure so talk to your health care provider before taking it.
  • Slippery elm prepared as a tea may be useful in relieving gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition commonly associated with anxiety.
  • One teaspoon each of Valerian, Skullcap and Linden flowers prepared as a tea in a cup of water up to three times a day. The brew will help you to relax while relieving the spasm in your throat.

The one thing that you should not do is to allow the symptoms of anxiety such as experiencing difficulty to swallow, to aggravate your anxiety. This will in turn just worsen your symptoms. Anxiety is a treatable condition and does not need to become your permanent companion. Many people have suffered and many will still suffer from anxiety, but it can be overcome and you can be the next one to beat it.


“Generalized Anxiety Disorder.” University of Michigan. Psychiatry. [No date]. (October 16, 2012)

“Dysphagia.” University of Maryland. Medical Center. 2011. (October 16, 2012).

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