Medical Causes of Phobia Symptoms

Illnesses That Cause Phobic Symptoms

Phobias can be tricky to diagnose, as some physical illnesses can cause symptoms that are very similar to those of a phobia. For example, an allergic reaction to medication can cause sweating, palpitations and other anxiety symptoms. The same symptoms could also be caused by an undiagnosed heart condition.

Most of the time, physical illness causes more generalized symptoms of anxiety rather than those that are linked to a specified phobia.

However, this is not always the case. Here are a few examples of times when the symptoms of physical illness and phobias may be closely linked.

Fear of Showing Symptoms of an Existing Illness

Many physical illnesses cause symptoms that may be viewed as abnormal or embarrassing. One such example is Parkinson’s disease, which can cause tremors and other muscular symptoms.

It is natural for people suffering from such disorders to exhibit fear of their symptoms being noticed in public. If the fear becomes overwhelming and the sufferer limits his or her activities because of the fear (not the disease itself), then it may be diagnosed as a phobia.

Physical Illnesses That Cause Specific Phobias

A few physical illnesses can cause symptoms of specific phobias. Examples include:

  • Photophobia: Aversion to light. Photophobia is a common symptom of several illnesses including meningitis and certain eye infections or injuries. If photophobia symptoms develop, it is important to rule out possible eye conditions.

  • Phonophobia: Fear of loud sounds. Phonophobia may be caused by hyperacusis, which is a physical condition that causes extreme sensitivity to sound.

  • Osmophobia: Aversion to odors. This phobia is often seen in migraine sufferers who have experienced odor-induced migraines.

  • Hydrophobia: Often confused with aquaphobia (fear of bodies of water), hydrophobia is a specific phobia of drinking water or other fluids. It is a late-stage symptom of rabies.

    Only a trained medical professional can distinguish phobias from physical illnesses. If you are experiencing the symptoms of a phobia, please make an appointment with your health care provider.


    A.D.A.M. Illustrated Health Encyclopedia.

    American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

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