There is no denying that attending a medical appointment isn’t everyone’s favourite pastime. In most cases, patients simply don’t enjoy the idea of going to the doctor, whether it’s because of the long waits at reception or the thought of having to undergo a physical examination. But for some people, a doctors’ appointment is a dreaded experience that can spark severe feelings of stress and anxiety.
This is known as ‘iatrophobia’, an irrational and out-of-proportion fear of doctors, medical tests, and medical care. While most phobias rarely have serious repercussions on people’s lives, iatrophobia can be dangerous, as sufferers are unlikely to seek medical attention even if they’re sick or show concerning symptoms.
In this article, we explore the ins and outs of iatrophobia, detailing why people may feel anxious about paying the doctor a visit and offering handy tips on how to overcome this unwanted fear.
What is iatrophobia?
In short, iatrophobia is a specific phobic disorder for which a person may find it extremely challenging and upsetting to get treated by a doctor, even if it’s only a standard check-up.
Before a doctor’s visit, people suffering from iatrophobia usually experience a number of telling symptoms. For example, an upcoming medical appointment can be the source of constant, endless worrying, making it difficult for you to focus on your day-to-day tasks. What’s more, once you reach the doctor’s office, the feelings of anxiety and panic are likely to rapidly escalate, to the point that you may start sweating, crying, or simply refuse to go ahead with the check-up.
Additionally, a strong fear of doctors can provoke the so-called ‘white-coat syndrome’, where the stress of seeing a medical profession can be enough to raise your blood pressure. This means that, while at home your blood-pressure figures are normal, in the presence of a doctor it skyrockets to clinically-significant levels.
If you suffer from iatrophobia, you’re also more prone to postponing your doctor appointments, no matter how important they are. In fact, you would rather put off check-ups and cope with an illness on your own than get the treatment you require.
What are the causes?
There are many different reasons for which someone may develop iatrophobia. Sometimes, it could be linked to a past, unfortunate experience. For instance, it may have been triggered by a doctor who lacked empathy when you were a child or by the memory of unpleasant medications and injections.
However, there may be other plenty of other causes too. Here are some of the most prominent ones:
- Traumatic illness – If you’ve had a serious accident or a severe illness in the past, you may associate doctors with that same unsettling experience. This means that, when you have an upcoming medical appointment, you may irrationally be worried about being seriously ill again, and would rather skip the check-up to avoid ‘reliving’ the past.
- Fear of receiving bad news – One of the most common reasons for which people avoid going to the doctor is because they are afraid of receiving a bad diagnosis. In fact, it has been found that two-thirds of Britons would put off a medical appointment for fear of being told that they are severely ill.
- Embarrassment and fear of pain – Some people develop iatrophobia because they fear that, when attending a doctor appointment, they might experience pain or feelings of discomfort. Not only that, but – depending on their symptoms, disease, or area of discomfort – they may be worried that the medical examination will cause them embarrassment.
How to manage iatrophobia
There is no denying that delaying doctor appointments and missing medical tests can jeopardise one’s wellbeing. Since iatrophobia can have life-threatening complications in the long run, it’s important to find a way to tackle, manage, and overcome this phobic disorder.
Richard Holmes at Westfield Health, experts in health cash plans, says that seeking support from a therapist can be a good step forward. “Having a long, honest chat with a therapist can be extremely beneficial,” he explains. “In fact, it can act as an excellent way to understand where your iatrophobia stems from, helping you identify the true source of your fear. This way, you’ll be able to address the cause of your anxiety, and can then set out a plan to keep your phobia at bay.
“What’s more, you may want to be open about your feelings with your own practitioner too. A good doctor will listen carefully to your needs and concerns, and will want to know how their presence affects your mental health. By being sincere about your worries, you’ll favour a better relationship with your doctor, which will in turn lead to better care and a more pleasant experience.”
As well as talking to professionals, there are several other steps you can take to manage your iatrophobia. For example:
- Schedule appointments at a time that best suits your needs – Where possible, you may want to consider booking check-ups at a time that makes you feel comfortable. If you suffer from iatrophobia, waiting all day for your doctor visit can cause a build-up of stress and anxiety. So, you may want to ask for an early-morning appointment to minimise your waiting time. Conversely, if you find that you’re generally more nervous and anxious in the morning, think about scheduling your check-up later in the evening.
- Bring a friend or family member with you – Having a loved one by your side as you wait to be called can have a comforting, relaxing effect on you. Not only that, but if you’re happy for them to enter the examination room too, they can offer an extra pair of ears when it comes to understanding what your doctor has to say.
- Arrange a video appointment – Depending on the nature of your doctor visit, you could ask your practitioner to arrange a phone call or video appointment instead. If possible, this may nip the problem in the bud, as you won’t be required to attend the clinic in person – which is what usually triggers sentiments of stress and dread.
- Change doctor – Another option is to get a new practitioner. In fact, you may find that you may get along better with another medical professional, as you may prefer both their personality and modus operandi. It’s always helpful to feel happy and comfortable during a doctor visit, so going to a practitioner you like can alleviate your worries.
Phobias aren’t always easy to cure, but they can be managed. When it comes to iatrophobia, it’s crucial to find ways to minimise its potentially dangerous effects.
Ultimately, from arranging medical appointments at a time that best suits your needs to bringing moral support to the examination room, there are some simple steps you can take to tackle your unwanted phobia.