Saturday, March 8, 2014

Needles, Dentists, Doctors and Other Medical Phobias

The two things I dread the most (besides getting on the scale) about going to the doctors are needles and having my blood pressure taken. I hate the feeling of a blood pressure cuff on my arm as it makes me feel trapped. As for needles, they give me the willies just thinking about them.

While I don’t like these procedures, I know it’s something I have to deal with. For others though, it’s more complex.

Heart palpitations, chest pains, dizziness, feeling ‘unreal’, faint or sick, difficulty breathing, ‘jelly legs,’ intense sweating, dry throat, and restricted or ‘fuzzy’ vision or hearing can occur for some people who are phobic about a particular procedure. The more afraid someone is, the more difficult it becomes for them to receive medical care.

Phobias are the most common kind of anxiety disorder, with over 50 million Americans thought to be living with some type of it. Generally beginning in childhood, teen years and early adulthood,  it’s unusual for those over 30 to develop one.

The reasons why someone develops a phobia very-stressful situation or experience, a bad experience, such as a painful dental visit, or even a family member or close friend’s description of their fears. I never thought much about having my blood pressure taken until I was pregnant and another mother-to-be described her fears at length about this routine procedure. My mother couldn’t have picked two more fearsome people for our dentist and pediatrician if she tried. They may have been good clinically, but they scared the hell out of us.  It could be that the horrors of childhood medical and dental visits that caused me and my siblings to all chose careers in healthcare as a way to try and change that.

While the Help Guide Phobias & Fears provides general information about treatment, there are specific things that can help depending on what the fear is.

Needle Phobia: Called Trypanophobia, it’s estimated that 10% of the population have this.  Strategies to consider-
• Make sure that the person giving the injection or taking blood is skilled.
 • Breathe slowly and deeply while the injection is given or blood drawn.
 • Take anti anxiety medications before the appointment.
 • Request an anesthetic such as Needle Buster, Numy Stuff or EMLA at the site of the injection.
 • Lying down or having legs elevated while receiving the injection reduces the risk of fainting.
 • Look away or having someone talk to or distract you while the procedure is being done.

Be sure to let your provider know of your fear as there are ways to work around it.

Blood Phobia: Mild fear of blood is very common, especially when you are younger. However intense fear is common, affecting 2-3% of children and adults. For “Doc Martin” fans, you know how devastating this can be if you work in the medical field. Nausea is one of the more typical responses and the simplest approach is not to look at it. So if you’re having a blood draw, look somewhere else in the room. If you require a dressing change, get someone to help you.  Swoon at the Sight of Blood? Why the sight of blood might make you feel faint- and what you can do about it. 

Dental Phobia: Years ago, a friend was so fearful of the dentist she hadn’t gone in decades. Ultimately, the decision was made to knock her out and remove all her teeth. There are much better options than this. Because approximately 20% of Americans only go when it’s absolutely necessary and between 5 and 8% wont go even if they are in pain, there are dentists that specifically work with phobic patients. If this is something you are dealing with, it maybe best to contact your state's dental society for a referral.

There are a variety of websites on this topic. Check out the following:

Also note that good dental hygiene can go a long way to reducing the need for dental care. Such practices include: brushing thoroughly twice a day and flossing daily; eating a healthy diet and limiting sugars; using dental products with fluoride including toothpaste and mouthwash; and using fluoridated water or supplements for children under 12. Note that an electric or battery-operated toothbrush can reduce plaque and gum disease. More tips on dental hygiene

Illness Phobia: Some people become obsessed about a particular illness and are constantly running to the doctor to be checked. They also focus unnaturally on their body, constantly examining it or asking other people to do so and continually wanting reassurances that they are okay. This tends to fall in the Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and needs to be treated accordingly.

White Coat Syndrome and Hospital Phobia: Similar to dental phobia, it’s estimated that 20% of Americans fear going to the doctors. Because an increase in blood pressure is so common in those with this fear, “white coat syndrome” has become a serious concern. Is it true fear of the medical appointment that causes the blood pressure to rise or do they have hypertension? If you think you may have “white coat syndrome” talk to your medical provider.
• Identify what you fear most about the hospital or doctors. It could be one of the fears already listed above, or in the case of hospitalization, it maybe a fear of separation from family and friends.

• In the case of hospital phobia, start with small steps and work up-drive, then walk by the hospital; go the cafeteria and have something drink; sit in the waiting room bringing things to do such as reading, listening to music


  1. I had this huge phobia of injections and that's why i used to avoid visiting my dentist for the routine dental check-ups. But last month I had serve toothache and I had to consult the dentist. He suggested me due to improper oral care the infection has affected my roots and so he suggested to go for root canal. He really helped to fight my dental phobia by explaining the complete treatment involved and showed animated videos to ease out my dental anxiety. It really helped me to complete my treatment peacefully.

    1. Glad that worked out. Sounds like a good dentist and one who could be helpful to others.