Iatrophobia or the fear of doctors is a blood-needle-injury type phobia. It is quite common in young children, though many adults are also known to suffer from it. The word Iatrophobia is derived from “Iatros” which is Greek for ‘healer’ and Phobos which means ‘deep dread or fear’. Another term given to this anxiety disorder (though in its relatively less serious form) is “white coat hypertension”.
Patients suffering from Iatrophobia tend to put off visiting the doctor, no matter how much they are suffering from a medical condition. (They rather suffer than seek professional help). Many are afraid of getting their vaccinations, or going to the lab for routine blood work. When they do find the courage to see a doctor, they have a full blown panic attack with elevated blood pressure, rapid breathing, nausea or other gastrointestinal distress.
Causes of Iatrophobia or the fear of doctors
Most cases of Iatrophobia occur in childhood, though it is not uncommon for adults to be fearful of visiting the doctor as well.
- Doctors are associated with needles or vaccines and tend to give “bitter pills”. One usually needs a doctor when not feeling well physically or mentally.
- Doctors typically work in hospitals and other settings associated with trauma, accidents, death, etc. As a child, the sufferer might have experienced a negative or traumatic incident which might have caused his Iatrophobia.
- Many Iatrophobic individuals also have trouble following authority. (Doctors are an authority as far as the medical health is concerned.) This causes the phobic to dislike or fear doctors.
- Alcoholics or substance abusers fear doctors since they believe they will make them confront such issues.
- Off late, the patients’ trust in doctors is also declining. A recent survey has shown that nearly 40% patients in the United States believe that doctors today do not care about patient well being as much as they did a few decades ago.
- Medical films, news reports about botched up surgeries or medical malpractices etc can also instill negative images leading to the fear of doctors.
Symptoms of Iatrophobia
Patients suffering from Iatrophobia are able to easily talk in front of 1000s of people with confidence, but, when faced with visiting a doctor, they shake, tremble or are unable to talk coherently. Some other physical symptoms of Iatrophobia include:
- Shaking, trembling and having muscular tension
- Having nausea or feeling like throwing up
- Children try to run, scream, cry or flee
- Phobics often put off routine medical exams and keep postponing medical/dental appointments
- They have normal blood pressure at home but tend to have clinically raised levels or hypertension in the doctor’s clinic (white coat hypertension).
- Many phobics fear illnesses and injuries (or turn into a hypochondriacs) and worry about the smallest coughs or colds fearing they will need medical treatment.
Iatrophobia is often associated with dentophobia which is the fear of dentists. Both may occur side by side in an individual.
Coping with fear of doctors phobia
Treating and overcoming Iatrophobia is often difficult since most individuals refuse to visit the doctor to begin with.
Fortunately, many patients have seen positive results by breathing deeply when faced with a visiting a doctor. It helps to remind oneself that the doctor is there to help. Visiting a doctor might increase one’s anxiety temporarily but it is vital to seek medical help rather than worsen the condition which can turn more complicated.
Discussing the phobia with the doctor also helps. Phobics should tell them what part of the medical exam is causing their anxiety. For example, if you do not like the doctor touching your neck when examining your thyroid, then point this out. Most doctors will be gentle and try and reassure you and help you relax. If you feel that the medical exam will bring out negative assessment results, do discuss it with the doctor as well.
It also helps if the doctor can visit the phobic at home or in a familiar setting rather than conducting the exam in an intimidating hospital or clinical setting. (Today, many doctors also give advice over the phone or the Internet).
A combination of drugs and psychotherapy are also proven to help patients suffering from the fear of doctors. Listening to calming music or watching television during the exam is also known to give favorable results when coping with Iatrophobia.