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Anxiety Lump In The Throat, Causes, Treatment

Marilyn Folk BScN medical reviewer
Written by: Jim Folk.
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated: April 3, 2019

anxiety lump in the throat feeling

What does the “lump in the throat” anxiety symptom feel like:

Common descriptions of the “lump in the throat” sensation include:

This lump in the throat feeling can occur suddenly and wash over you at any time and anywhere.

This lump in the throat feeling can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist indefinitely. For example, you may feel it once in a while and not that often, feel it off and on, or feel it all the time.

This lump in the throat feeling may precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms, or occur by itself.

This lump in the throat feeling can precede, accompany, or follow an episode of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and elevated stress, panic attack or anxiety attack, or occur “out of the blue” and “for no apparent reason.”

This lump in the throat feeling can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. It can also come in waves, where it’s strong one moment and eases off the next.

This lump in the throat feeling can change from day to day, and/or from moment to moment.

All of the above combinations and variations are common.

This lump in the throat feeling can be more disconcerting when undistracted, when trying to rest or go to sleep, or when woken up with it during the night, or when waking up first thing in the morning.

Why does anxiety cause a lump in the throat feeling?

Medical Advisory
Because there are many medical conditions that can cause anxiety-like sensations and symptoms, including feeling like you have a lump in the throat, we recommend all new, changing, persistent, and returning sensations and symptoms be discussed with your doctor. If your doctor concludes your sensations and symptoms are solely stress related, including anxiety-caused stress, you can be confident that there isn't a medical cause for this feeling. Generally, most doctors can easily determine the difference between stress- and anxiety-caused sensations and symptoms from those caused by medical conditions.

Doctors aren’t infallible, however. If you are uncertain about your doctor’s diagnosis, you may want to seek a second or more opinions. But if all opinions concur, you can be assured that stress, including anxiety-caused stress, is the cause of this lump in the throat feeling. Therefore, you can confidently rule out a medical cause.

Being stressed and/or anxious (worried, apprehensive, fretful, fearful) causes the body to produce the stress response. The stress response secretes stress hormones into the bloodstream where they travel to targeted spots in the body to bring about specific physiological, psychological, and emotional changes that enhance the body’s ability to deal with a threat—to either fight with or flee from it—which is the reason the stress response is often referred to as the fight or flight response.

The stress response causes the body’s muscles to tighten, including those that control swallowing. This tightening can feel like a lump or pressure in the throat.

The stress response also increases sensory awareness making us more aware of normal body sensations, such those in and around the area of the throat. Combining these two aspects can make it feel as if there is a lump in the throat.

This is the reason why people associate a “lump in the throat” feeling with being nervous.

Persistently elevated stress, which we call stress-response hyperstimulation, can also cause a “lump in the throat” feeling.

Other causes of this sensation include dryness in the throat due to stress (stress causes saliva to dry up); mild throat infection (due to the early onset or persistence of a cold or flu); because the throat is raw from talking, yelling, or swallowing too much (some people swallow more as a nervous habit); because of stomach problems, such as gas, bloating, or acid reflux (which puts extra pressure on these closed valves); or because it has become irritated by irritants in the air, such as from pollutants or strong odors.

How to get rid of the lump in the throat anxiety symptom?

When this feeling is caused by apprehensive behavior and the accompanying stress response changes, calming yourself down will bring an end to the stress response and its changes. As your body recovers from the active stress response, this impending doom feeling should subside. Keep in mind that it can take up to 20 minutes or more for the body to recover from a major stress response. But this is normal and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.

When this feeling is caused by hyperstimulation, it should subside as the involuntary spike in stress hormones diminish. Keep in mind, however, it may take time for the body to gear down to the point where the strong feeling of impending doom dissipates.

Anxiety and hyperstimulation caused lump in the throat is not dangerous. Therefore, there is no reason to be concerned about it. It’s a common reaction to being anxious and/or when stress is persistently elevated.

Addressing the other possible causes can alleviate the lump in the throat feeling.

If you are having difficulty containing your worry about this feeling, you may want to connect with one of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists. Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to overcome problematic anxiety, and especially, what seems like unmanageable worry.

For a more detailed explanation about anxiety symptoms, why symptoms can persist long after the stress response has ended, common barriers to recovery and symptom elimination, and more recovery strategies and tips, we have many chapters that address this information in the Recovery Support area of our website.

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.

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Additional Resources:

Return to our anxiety symptoms page.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and coaching/counseling/therapy for problematic anxiety and its sensations and symptoms, including lump in the throat.