We all know someone who may be sicker than a dog and yet still refuses to go to the doctor. Maybe this person hasn’t crossed the threshold of a physician’s office for years, even decades. Other people may have troubling symptoms but they put off doctor visits or medical tests that could help them. While it could be that the person is just being stubborn, often those who refuse to seek medical help are experiencing iatrophobia or fear of the doctor or of medical tests.
Iatrophobic people often ignore symptoms until it is too late: maybe their cold progresses into pneumonia or their troubling symptoms are signs of a serious disease such as diabetes or cancer.
When people who suffer from a fear of medical tests or a fear of the doctor consider seeking medical help, they often experience symptoms such as:
- Fear of dying
- Fear of loss of control
- Nausea and dry mouth
- Heart palpitations and breathlessness
- Excessive sweating and shaking
- Obsessive worry about visiting the doctor or hospital
What are the reasons someone may have a fear of the doctor? Iatrophobia can be the result of many things, among them:
- Fear of hearing bad news or getting negative results from a medical test or exam
- Anxiety about catching an illness or disease from someone else in the office or hospital
- A traumatic event that occurred at the doctor’s office as a child
- Sights and smells in a hospital or doctor’s office
- Fear of blood or of claustrophobia (during an MRI, for example)
- Fear of pain from undergoing a test or examination or from shots and needles
- Impersonal doctors or staff, making people feel like they are just a “number”
If you suffer from fear of the doctor, have been avoiding medical tests, or haven’t been to a doctor in years, there are several things you can do to help:
- For a mild case of iatrophobia, try to schedule your appointments early in the morning or late in the day to avoid waiting too long in the reception area. Take a book or something distracting with you to help you relax while waiting. If you have claustrophobia, ask if your MRI can be done using an “open MRI” machine or if the facility uses distractions, such as music, when you are undergoing the procedure. Additionally, it can be helpful to bring a close friend or family member along with you for support.
- For a more moderate or severe form of iatrophobia, cognitive behavior therapy can help you gain a better understanding of your condition and assist you in finding ways to cope with your fears. This therapy helps you replace negative, inaccurate thoughts with ones that are positive and more realistic.
- In some cases, in vivo exposure therapy can be used to reduce the triggers that drive a fear of the doctor. This type of therapy helps to redirect the negative signals into positive ones through gradual exposure coupled with relaxation exercises when anxiety levels become too great.
- If your doctor–based anxiety also includes a fear of the mental health professional who may treat you, know that some therapists offer their services via email, Skype or Facetime, or over the phone. This can be a great way to begin treatment while still remaining in a safe and comfortable environment and recent studies have shown you can achieve the same therapy benefits from online treatment as you can from being physically present in an office setting.
- In severe cases, medication may be combined with cognitive behavior therapy or other supportive therapies.
Don’t put off examinations and medical tests due to a fear of the doctor any longer! Supportive therapies can make all the difference in your health and wellbeing. For more information, call Dr. Andrew Rosen and The Center for Treatment of Anxiety Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida at 561-496-1094 or email Dr. Rosen and The Center today.