How to deal with iatrophobia or fear of doctors

Visiting the doctor to clear up doubts about any discomfort or to know the state of health means a great relief for many.

However, in other people it can trigger absolute panic that prevents or makes it difficult for them to carry out their corresponding check-ups. This situation is known as iatrophobia or fear of doctors or medical visits.

What is iatrophobia?

Iatrophobia can be described as panic to doctors, health personnel or medical visits, although it is also often used to indicate fear related to any person, object or symbol linked to health.

Because being nervous before visiting the doctor is normal, it is often difficult to recognize when you are facing a case of iatrophobia.

Only a mental health professional can determine this, however, experts warn that certain symptoms may indicate that it is not a case of normal anxiety or fear towards the doctor:

  • Great concern about visiting the doctor to the point that it makes it difficult or impossible to do or concentrate on other things.
  • Loss of control of emotions (especially when in the office) leading to sweating, shaking, crying, or refusing to come in.
  • Postpone medical checkups, vaccinations or other routine care.

Another aspect that experts highlight is that, unlike other phobias, iatrophobia, by its nature, is the most difficult to treat.

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Not visiting the doctor regularly, in the long run, can lead to different health problems that will eventually require complex medical procedures, which in principle would have been easy to treat.

How to treat iatrophobia?

Because iatrophobia episodes are triggered by doctors or office visits, experts recommend using different options to treat and avoid future complications:

  • Opt for medical services over the phone or the Internet, with the aim of limiting exposure.
  • Find doctors or health providers who offer services in settings and in a discreet way.

It is also advisable to turn to professionals, such as psychologists or therapists, to help understand the phobia and find the best strategies to deal with it.

Scientific evidence shows that resorting to therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, is very effective in learning to control phobias.

In these treatments, techniques of breathing, relaxation, and controlled exposure to the trigger of the fears are used.

Another option that has gained great relevance in recent years is mindfulness or full awareness, which consists of being attentive at all times to feelings, thoughts, bodily sensations and the environment.

It is a technique widely used as a complement to psychotherapy, with the aim of reducing anxiety and stress.

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While finding a treatment for iatrophobia is not easy, experts encourage patients to take the first step in finding professionals who can help them treat this condition.

Something that can be of great help is having the support of someone you trust (family member, friend or colleague) who can be a company during the first phases of this process.

What are phobias?

Phobia is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by a strong and irrational fear of some situation, object or animal that does not represent a real danger.

They usually develop during childhood or adolescence and continue throughout life. It is estimated that 10% of the world’s population has a phobia.

There are different types, some are more common, such as claustrophobia (fear of confined or confined spaces), agoraphobia (fear of crowds in open spaces), acrophobia (fear of heights), or aerophobia (fear of flying).

Others, however, are less common, such as calliginephobia (fear of beautiful women), crematophobia (fear of money) or dendrophobia (fear of trees).

Phobias can be identified when a person tries to avoid by any means what generates fear. If this is not possible, you may suffer:

  • Anxiety.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Crying.
  • Need to flee.
  • Panic.
  • Excessive sweating
  • Tachycardia (fast heartbeat).
  • Tremors
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Professionals estimate that phobias are the most common mental health illness among women, regardless of age.

That a person is aware of their phobia is of great help in developing a diagnosis, since each treatment must be adapted to the patient.

Consulting a psychologist or psychiatrist is recommended first, although many people find that simply avoiding the source of their fear helps them stay in control.

Professionals may also prescribe medications, such as beta-blockers, tranquilizers, or antidepressants, with the goal of reducing the anxiety symptoms that phobias cause.

You can also use behavioral therapies or relaxation and breathing techniques to learn how to control panic episodes.

Sources consulted: American Psychiatric Association, US National Library of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, National Institute of Mental Health.

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