Do you feel faint at the sight of a needle? Do you avoid hospitals at all costs? Do you have traumatic memories of a dental visit? If you have a medical fear, you’re in good company. Searching for “medical fears and phobias” yields a huge list of fears about medical situations.
Sometimes, a fear becomes more disruptive to your life. It can cause a severe anxiety or panic attack or prevent you from getting a much-needed medical treatment. In situations like these, your medical fear would qualify as a phobia.
The good news is if you suffer from a fear or more serious phobia, help is available to get the health care you need.
What’s Scaring You?
- Hospitals/doctor. No one particularly likes going to the doctor or a hospital. But if you avoid a doctor’s visit at all costs, it could have serious effects on your health.
- Needles/injections. While a fear of needles is not uncommon, it can prevent you from getting the vaccines or blood tests you need.
- Procedures/surgeries. A fear of medical procedures or surgery can be related to a fear of pain, a fear of the unknown, or a fear of anesthesia.
- A serious or terminal diagnosis. A serious diagnosis, like cancer, is something that everyone fears to some extent. However, avoiding preventive care because you think it’ll reveal something serious could be considered a phobia.
- The dentist. Many times, a fear of the dentist begins in childhood but carries over into adulthood. It often stems from a painful or traumatic experience.
Overcoming Your Fear
If any of the above strike a chord with you, know you’re not alone. Medical fears and phobias are very common. Luckily, there are ways to overcome them.
- Get to the root of your fear. A good way to do this is by writing down what exactly you are afraid of. If you are afraid of hospitals is it because you are afraid of getting germs or an infection? Or are you just afraid of the unknown? If you are afraid of medical procedures or needles, is it because you fear blood?
- Educate yourself. Research doctors and hospitals to find one that is highly rated and that you feel comfortable with. There are several sites (HealthGrades is one) that provide concrete data about doctor and hospital rankings. The Blue Cross Blue Shield Blue Distinction® program designates facilities that rank highly in specialty care. It can help you make an educated choice if you need specialty surgeries or specialty care, such as cardiac care or maternity care.
- Avoid the media. The media can be a powerful source of information. However, many times medical topics are sensationalized in order to sell. Headlines are designed to grab your attention, feeding into your fears.
- Bring a loved one for support. It’s almost always easier to face a medical fear if you take a friend or family member with you. Remember this when you go in for a medical test, to get a shot, or for a medical surgery/procedure. A friend can help distract you, cheer you up, or support you while you face your fears.
- Find a support group. Friends and family can be a tremendous support system, sometimes. But it’s helpful to talk to someone who understands exactly what you are feeling. This is where support groups are invaluable. Luckily, there are hundreds of support groups for various conditions/fears/anxieties.
- Breathing/meditation. Mindfulness or relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation can also help you cope with anxiety-inducing medical fears or phobias.
- Consider treatment options. If your fear is preventing you from getting much-needed medical help, you may want to consider seeing a therapist. Therapy can help correct intrusive or negative thoughts and problematic behavior and is very effective at treating health anxieties. You may also want to talk with your primary care doctor about whether medication is an appropriate option.