Trypanophobia (pronounced [try-pan-oh-fo-bee-ah]) is defined as the fear of needles, having your blood drawn, getting an injection or shot — basically, any procedure involving a needle. It is also sometimes referred to as Belonephobia and related to iatrophobia and dentophobia. It could fall under the diagnosis of Other Specified Phobia (F40.298) or Other Situational Type Phobia — F40.248 (DSM-V).
In my research, I came across many explanations and theories as to what causes this fear. I have narrowed it down to two main categories: vasovagal syncope & a conditioned response.
Whoa, talk about a mouthful. So what is Vasovagal Syncope (pronounced [vay-zoh-vay-gul sing-kuh-pee])? According to the Mayo Clinic, this phenomenon is caused when you are exposed to a certain trigger, such as a needle. Your heart rate and blood pressure can drop suddenly as the vessels in your legs dilate and pool with blood. This lowers blood flow to the brain, causing you to become dizzy and even faint.
Interestingly enough, this phenomenon can run in families. A study published in 2014 found that 26% of first degree relatives (i.e. siblings, parents, children) were affected by this phobia. I see this evidenced in my own life — my younger brother and I both suffer varying degrees of vasovagal episodes when we have blood drawn.
I had a doctor’s appointment recently that ended in a blood draw. It had been a while, so I mistakenly assumed I’d be alright and opted to say nothing about previous experiences. Let me preface this example by saying the intro paragraph to this article…was me. As the technician placed her syringe and began to draw blood I became extremely dizzy, nauseous, and came dangerously close to fainting. Honestly, I hadn’t been this overwhelmed by a blood draw in ages.
As the tech called for assistance, she made me lay back and take some deep breaths. They moved me to a reclining chair and admonished me to warn them next time so they could adequately prepare. Twenty minutes later — after having chugged some apple juice and eaten a granola bar —I fled the clinic. All the while assuring them that I could drive home safely. Definitely a humbling experience.
You’ll see this as a common thread through most of our articles, but often something situational or traumatic can lead to your intense fear. For example, if you deal with vasovagal syncope, extreme physical distress and even embarrassment are associated with needles. Case in point, when I decided not to tell the lab technician how I responded to needles & nearly caused the whole clinic to rush to my aid.
Another small study of children showed that too many vaccinations between the ages of 4-6 can lead to trypanophobia. Although, this only applies if the children in question were given too many painful shots in one day. Unfortunately, with the CDC recommending 4 shots in this age range (plus the annual influenza vaccine), the possibility of multiple shots in one sitting is high. If this isn’t done carefully, the pain associated with these shots can lead to an intense fear of needles that continues throughout a child’s life.
What is the number one reason trypanophobia differs from other phobias? People suffering from trypanophobia can faint, which can lead to physical harm. Here are some other common symptoms:
Alright, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty: how to get over the fear of needles or injections:
Does your fear of needles stem from a childhood experience? Perhaps too many painful shots in one day, or being forced as a child to get a shot? If this is the case for you, here are some suggestions:
If you deal with vasovagal episodes like I do, you have to overcome an embarrassing physical response. The applied tension technique can help.
This is a simple technique that you can practice anywhere. Sit somewhere comfortable and tense the muscles in your body for 15 seconds. You should feel warmth on your face as you are causing an increase in blood pressure. Relax. Repeat this 5 or so times, and continue daily for about a week. Utilize this technique during your next shot or blood draw, but relax the arm that receives the needle. The uptick in blood pressure should be high enough to keep you from fainting.
For more in-depth treatment for trypanophobia, you can consider counseling. A therapist can develop a treatment plan and give you more one-on-one treatment and tools to overcome your fear. An online search will surface counselors near you.
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