Iatrophobia causes you to fear doctors or medical tests. You may avoid seeking medical care even when you’re very sick because you have extreme anxiety or panic attacks. The thought of getting medical tests also causes fear. Therapy can help ensure you get the medical care you may need.
People with iatrophobia (eye-AT-rah-FO-bee-ah) have an extreme fear of doctors or medical tests. The word originates from “iatros,” the Greek word for healer, and “phobos,” which means fear.
Someone with iatrophobia may refuse to seek medical attention even when they’re very sick or showing signs of a serious illness. They may ignore symptoms until they need hospitalization.
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Phobias are anxiety disorders that cause extreme, irrational fear of something, far beyond the actual danger it presents. Iatrophobia is a type of phobia known as a specific phobic disorder.
You may be afraid of doctors or medical procedures because of past trauma. Or fear may stem from the connection to blood, injuries and injections (needles).
Specific phobic disorders affect about 12% of American adults and 19% of children and adolescents. While there aren’t statistics just for iatrophobia, one survey found that 1 in 3 Americans avoid going to their doctor, even when they think they need medical care.
The number of people with iatrophobia may have increased as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. People may fear going to their doctor due to the risk of virus exposure. They also may have heard that the nasal swab test for COVID-19 was uncomfortable or painful, making them afraid of the test. People with iatrophobia may be less likely to get tested even after a known virus exposure or the onset of COVID-19 symptoms.
People who have illness anxiety disorder or IAD (formerly known as hypochondria) are more likely to develop a fear of doctors or medical tests. IAD causes you to excessively worry that you’re getting sick or are already ill. Someone with IAD may be afraid that their doctor will diagnose them with an illness or incurable disease.
You may also develop iatrophobia if you smoke or have a substance use disorder. You may fear seeing your doctor because they might give you bad news about your health or suggest you quit using these substances.
Children may develop a fear of doctors because they associate the doctor’s office with getting shots for vaccinations. This fear may carry over into adulthood.
You may be more likely to have a fear of doctors or medical tests if you:
It’s common to have more than one phobia. For instance, someone who’s afraid of doctors is more likely to have dentophobia, a fear of dentists.
You may also have:
Someone with a fear of doctors is usually aware that the phobia is illogical. Regardless of this knowledge, they’re unable to control their physical reactions when they see their doctor. They often have symptoms even when they think about going to their doctor or getting a medical test.
You may experience these symptoms:
If iatrophobia prevents you from seeing your doctor, a behavioral health specialist like a counselor, social worker or psychologist can help. Your clergy member may also be qualified to provide counseling.
Iatrophobia is a situational-specific phobic disorder. That means it occurs in particular situations (when you think about or see a doctor). For a formal diagnosis, symptoms must meet these criteria set by the American Psychiatric Association (APA):
A counselor or therapist can help you work on overcoming a fear of doctors or medical tests through the use of:
Delaying medical care or tests can jeopardize your health. These steps can help you get the care you need while minimizing the risk of triggering iatrophobia symptoms:
Skipping medical exams and tests puts you at risk for serious, often irreversible disease complications that can affect your quality of life and longevity. For instance, undiagnosed, untreated high blood pressure and high cholesterol increase your risk for a potentially fatal stroke or heart attack. Regularly seeing your doctor is critical to good health.
Someone with iatrophobia may also have white coat syndrome. This term refers to high blood pressure that occurs only when you see a doctor. When you take your blood pressure at home, the numbers are in a healthy range. The phobia and related stressors may cause this spike in blood pressure.
You’re also at risk for panic attacks when you see your doctor or get medical tests. Repeated panic attacks can lead to panic disorder.
Everyone needs to seek medical care at certain times. Reach out to your healthcare provider if you experience:
You may want to ask your healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Fear of doctors or medical tests (iatrophobia) can significantly and negatively impact your health. People need routine doctor visits, blood tests and other procedures to help identify early signs of disease. Healthcare providers offer treatments that can make your life more comfortable and add years to your life. A mental health professional can help you overcome iatrophobia. You may also find it helpful to let your doctor and healthcare team know about the phobia so they can take steps to make you feel more comfortable in medical settings.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/10/2021.
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