From psychologist of the Rehabilitation Unit "Thalpos Kalamata" Evi Tsikrikou.
Phobia is a type of anxiety disorder, defined by a persistent fear of an object or condition, and appears to most people as simple, common stimuli.
Medical fear is defined as "any experience that involves medical personnel or procedures involved in the process of evaluating or modifying health status in traditional health care settings" (Margaret S. Steward & David S. Steward (2006-02-14). "Children's conceptions of medical procedures". New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development.).
There are many different aspects that belong to this range of fear (F40.23, ICD 10). “Iatrophobia” or else the fear of doctors is a phobia very common in young children but also in adults. Avoiding a visit to a doctor may lead to problems not only in short-term but also in long-term health. There is a medical condition called "White Coat Hypertension" or "White Coat Syndrome" that is involved in increasing blood pressure in the presence of doctors. The phobic fear caused by an invasive medical procedure is called "tomophobia" (Schmid, Markus; Wolf, Robert C; Freudenmann, Roland W; Schönfeldt-Lecuona, Carlos (2009-11-18). "Tomophobia, the phobic fear caused by an invasive medical procedure - an emerging anxiety disorder: a case report"). In fact, the fear of dental care, known as dental fear, ranked fifth among the most common fears (Dental fear: Comparisons Between Younger and Older Adults, M. Michelle Rowe, PhD American Journal of Health Studies).
Research shows that many people avoid getting vaccinated or doing the regular blood tests, because of the fear they feel about needles and blood, putting their lives at risk.
The patient who suffers from medical fear tends to postpone the visit to the doctor, no matter how he suffers. In case he finds the courage to visit a doctor, he is in panic, shows increased blood pressure, fast breathing, nausea or other gastrointestinal discomfort.
Although most cases of "iatrophobia" appear in childhood, it is not uncommon for adults to be afraid to visit the doctor for the following reasons:
- Needles, vaccines and pain are directly associated with doctors.
- The possibility to listen anything negative, regarding their health, terrifies them so much that they persuade themselves that they are not at risk.
- A suffered person may have had a traumatic experience with a physician as a child and this is how this phobia was born to him.
- Several individuals who suffer from iatrophobia, face troubles with doctors as they are experts in medical field and for this they feel dislike or fear for them.
- Alcohol or substance users are afraid of doctors because they know they will be forced to cope with their personal problems.
- Medical films, news about malicious surgery or medical bribery can also create negative images that lead to iatrophobia.
It is difficult to overcome iatrophobia as most people refuse to visit even the specialist who would help them deal with it.
A psychologist would assist the patient in managing his anxiety by various techniques such as controlled breathing. In more serious cases, a combination of drugs and psychotherapy, it is proved to be of valuable help.
From doctor's point of view, discussing the phobia with the patient is an important element. He needs to give the patient time to explain him which part of the examination causes him anxiety and figure out with a solution. The doctor should be polite, informative before and during the examination, show understanding and not be in a hurry, so that the patient relaxes to cope with his phobia. It is observed that music or television during the examination contribute positively.
It is also important that the patient is not ashamed to discuss with the doctor his phobia, reminding himself that the doctor is the key to deal with his fear. Even if his anxiety may temporarily increase, it is vital to seek medical help rather than exacerbate his situation to an irreversible point.