When You’re Afraid to Go to the Doctor

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It’s called Iatrophobia.

At certain stages of our lives, many of us are afraid to visit medical professionals. After all, needles, surgery, and getting naked for intimate examinations are no fun. And when we have an inkling that something might be wrong – that mole really is bigger than it felt last time we checked, or we have a nagging worry that those persistent headaches might be the symptom of a scarier problem —  we worry that going to the doctor or dentist will confirm our deepest fears.

 

But some people’s fear of the doctor exceeds these normal anxieties. Those suffering from iatrophobia, (about 3% of the population,) are so overwhelmed by their fear of doctors that they put off essential, preventative medical care, like blood-tests, mammograms, rectal and vaginal screenings for years, or even decades, putting their health and lives at risk.

 

In many cases, people with iatrophobia imagine that preventative care, or medical treatment for what ails them, will involve far more pain and suffering than it actually does. So they avoid the simple but uncomfortable procedures that can detect early warning signs. And even those who arrange for medical screenings don’t follow up on bad news. For instance, 40% of women who receive abnormal mammogram results do not submit to a follow-up test as recommended by a physician. In so doing, they risk a worsening, even life-threatening scenario. And for many sufferers of iatrophobia, only a crisis, like a heart attack, finally sends them to the doctor.

 

The first step toward overcoming such fear is to admit that you struggle in its grip. And the best person to share this admission with, is your medical practitioner. Although many sufferers imagine that their doctors won’t want to be bothered or that the medical team will find their patient’s fears ridiculous, it is not the case.

 

Good doctors encourage people suffering from iatrophobia to make an appointment to talk about their anxieties. Because by naming their fear, the patient gives their doctor a chance to overcome it. When a supportive doctor describes a procedure ahead of time, using realistic, non emotive language, many patients can muster the courage to follow through with treatment.

 

When a fearful person practices entering a hospital lobby, the elevator, and then the consultant’s office, they find they can make an appointment for surgery.  When talking it through isn’t enough, physicians also treat patients suffering from iatrophobia in order to  help patients overcome their most debilitating fears, so that they can undergo needed medical treatments.

 

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