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Panic Attack Symptoms: A Lump in the Throat

by Dr. Blumberg on August 29, 2010

Could My Throat Pressure be a sign of Throat Cancer?

 Charles*, a 34 year old divorced engineer, felt a sudden sensation of throat tightness and pressure, while watching TV on a Saturday Morning right before the holidays. He noticed the “lump in the throat” persisted all day.  Charles could not help his mind from traveling into health worry.  He thought, “It feels like a ball is in my throat, maybe it is throat cancer.  It feels like my throat is about to close up. There is definitely something lodged in my throat.”

Constant Checking and the Fear that My Throat Is Closing Up

Charles continued to check his throat on and off throughout the day.  He noticed, now, he had difficulty swallowing and continued to try to swallow to check to make sure his throat stayed open.  Next, he began to fear eating and swallowing food.  He worried his throat pressure was part of a narrowing of the opening in his throat.  He thought, “What if my throat closes up, and I suffocate or choke to death.”  Charles decided he better just stick with a liquid diet for now.

The Case of Doctor Doubt

Charles immediately scheduled a medical visit with his Family Doctor.  The Doctor conducted a thorough examination of his throat and reassured Charles, there was nothing lodged in his throat.  When the Doctor pronounced that Charles was in good health and suggested he might be under undue stress, Charles looked disappointed.  He thought, “Maybe the Doctor missed something.   How could such a definite feeling of throat pressure be caused by stress?”  Charles wanted to see a specialist to rule out a medical cause for the annoying, worrisome “Lump in the Throat”.  The Family Doctor said, “Just to be sure and give you peace of mind, I will send you to the best Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) Doctor in the area.”

The Throat Pressure Intensifies

Now Charles had to wait 10 days to see the specialist.  Throughout each day, he continued to check and focus on the feeling of pressure in his throat.  He wondered, “Why is it there all the time?  I feel it before I get out of bed.  It feels like it is getting tighter and tighter each day, like something is growing in my throat.”  By the time Charles met with the ENT Doctor, he was convinced the Doctor would find a tumor in his throat. 

The diagnosis is Globus Hystericus

 The ENT Doctor reassured Charles that he would clear his mind of any worry that day.  He told him he would scope his throat (e.g. put a little camera down his throat) to make sure it was clear.

At the end of the evaluation, The Doctor reassured Charles that his throat was perfectly normal and there was nothing inside his throat. When Charles briefly glanced at the diagnosis that the Doctor had noted in his medical chart he read the words, “Globus Hystericus”.  Charles had no idea that this term meant a spasm of the throat muscle. This harmless muscle spasm continued to plague Charles day after day.  Charles still was not confident in his health.  He continued to worry that there was some undetected disease developing in his throat.

Schedule a Visit with Doctor Blumberg

 When Charles contacted his Family Doctor, complaining he was not feeling any better, the Doctor said “I want you to schedule an evaluation with Doctor Blumberg.  He is an expert in Stress and Anxiety disorders.” Charles reluctantly scheduled his first appointment.  He frankly saw no need to see a “Shrink” and was upset that his Family Doctor thought that his “Lump in the Throat” was “All in his head”.

Step One: See the Two Parts of Panic

 The first step in helping Charles was to help him see the two parts of panic.

Part One: The bodily symptom, lump in throat, was a natural normal sensation of muscle contraction.

Part Two: The False Catastrophic Thought was “Throat cancer, something is growing in my throat, throat close up, can’t swallow. Why won’t this feeling go away?”

Once Charles stopped fueling the throat pressure with fearful false alarming thoughts, the sensation of pressure began to fade.

The Biggest Mistake is trying to make the Symptom Go Away!

 Steps aimed at relieving the “Lump in the Throat” backfire. The more you fight the symptom, the more you feed it with fear.

Only in the later stages of training, did Charles see where the lump in throat came from.  Blocked strong emotions have a physical counterpart.   When you are angry you feel heat…”hot under the collar.”

When you feel sad you can feel a “Lump in the Throat”…”all choked up”.

*References to real persons, places and events are made in a fictional context, and are not intended in any way to be libelous, defamatory or in any way factual.

This educational information should always be used in consultation with your doctor to confirm a diagnosis and review available treatments for panic disorder.

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