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Iatrophobia

Fear of Doctors

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Updated October 01, 2008

Most of us do not particularly enjoy going to the doctor. From the often long waits to the cold, sterile environment to the possibility of a painful procedure, doctor visits can cause anxiety in nearly anyone. For some people, however, normal anxiety gives way to outright panic. Iatrophobia, or fear of doctors, is surprisingly common today.

Iatrophobia or Normal Anxiety?

Since it is normal to be nervous before a doctor visit, it can be difficult to tell whether your symptoms constitute a full-blown phobia. Only a qualified mental health professional can make this determination. However, a few signs may signify that your fear is out of proportion. You may experience all, some or none of the following:

Obsessive Worrying – Normal anxiety is typically transitory. You might feel a wave of nervous when actively thinking about an upcoming appointment. You may feel stress on the way to the doctor’s office or while sitting in the waiting room. However, you will not spend a great deal of time thinking about an upcoming visit, and you will be able to distract yourself from the anxiety.

If you have iatrophobia, however, an upcoming doctor visit may be the source of endless worrying. You might find it difficult or impossible to focus on other things. Once you have reached the doctor’s office, you are likely to experience feelings of panic and a sensation of being out of control. You might sweat, shake or cry, or even refuse to enter the examination room.

Other Illness-Related Phobias – Many people with iatrophobia worry that they might need to see a doctor, even if no visits are currently scheduled. You might become obsessed with minor ailments, fearing that they will require medical treatment. It is relatively common for iatrophobia to occur alongside hypochondriasis or nosophobia, which are both phobias of illness.

Postponing Doctor Appointments – Those who merely experience nervousness about doctor visits typically do not try to avoid them. If you have iatrophobia, however, you might find yourself putting off checkups, vaccinations and other routine care. You might suffer through even relatively serious illnesses on your own, rather than seeking professional treatment.

Dentophobia – Although either phobia can occur independently, dentophobia, or fear of dentists, often occurs alongside iatrophobia. It is common for dentists to trigger the same fears as those triggered by doctors of all types.

White Coat Hypertension – Although controversial, the phenomenon of white coat hypertension has been documented by numerous researchers. This occurs when the stress of seeing a doctor is enough to raise your blood pressure to a clinically significant level. Your blood pressure is normal when checked at home or in another setting, such as a health fair, but is high at the doctor’s office.

Coping With Iatrophobia

Iatrophobia can be more difficult to treat than many other phobias due to the nature of the fear. While phobias can generally be treated with a combination of medications and therapy, many people with iatrophobia fear mental health professionals as well as other types of doctor. It may be difficult for you to visit a professional treatment provider.

Although it can temporarily worsen your anxiety, it is very important that you seek treatment. Over time, untreated iatrophobia can cause you to avoid needed medical care. It can put your health and well-being at risk, and may ultimately result in difficult, complicated medical procedures for conditions that would have initially been easy to treat.

Some mental health providers offer services via telephone or internet. Although seeking in-person treatment is always preferable, these services can help you tame your phobia enough to face an in-person visit.

Search for a mental health provider that offers services in a low-key setting that is more homelike than clinical. Some professionals work out of their homes or rented spaces in office buildings, rather than hospitals or medical facilities. Some wear jeans and other casual clothes, and some provide soothing music, televisions and other services designed for relaxation.

A good treatment provider will work at your pace. He will take the time to allow you to become comfortable with the office environment before moving on to treating the phobia. Common treatments include cognitive-behavioral therapy, hypnosis and group seminars. Look for a provider that offers the type of treatment with which you feel most comfortable.

Seeking treatment for iatrophobia is never easy. With a bit of advance research, however, you should be able to find a mental health services provider that makes you feel comfortable. Take someone with you to act as a support person if needed, and focus on developing trust with your provider before moving on to the actual phobia treatment.

Source:

Let’s Talk Facts about Mental Health. American Psychiatric Association. February 11, 2008. http://healthyminds.org/factsheets/LTF-Phobias.pdf

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