What Is Trypanophobia?

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What Is Trypanophobia?

Trypanophobia is the extreme fear of medical procedures involving injections or hypodermic needles. It tends to be more common in children and may lessen as people grow older and gain more experience having medical procedures and injections involving needles. For some people, however, this fear can remain extreme and distressing during adulthood.

Despite the fact that an estimated 10% of Americans struggle with this phobia, it was not recognized as a specific phobia in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) until 1994. Though specific to medical needles, this disorder is commonly referred to as “needle phobia” by the general public.

Symptoms

If you have trypanophobia, you may dread receiving medical care, particularly injections. When you are required to undergo a medical procedure, you are likely to experience high blood pressure and an elevated heart rate in the hours and days leading up to your procedure. At the time of the event, your blood pressure may rapidly drop and you may even faint.

Other common symptoms of this phobia include:

  • Anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweating
  • Trembling

People will also engage in avoidance behaviors, which can affect medical care if they refuse to get treatment due to their fear of needles. In some cases, these feelings of anxiety can become so severe that a person experiences a panic attack

If you or a loved one are struggling with trypanophobia, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Diagnosis

In order to diagnose your condition, a doctor will perform a physical exam to rule out any potential physical conditions that might be contributing to your symptoms. They will also ask questions about your symptoms including information about the severity, duration, and nature of what you have been experiencing.

In order to be diagnosed with a specific phobia such as trypanophobia, your symptoms must:

  • Be unreasonable and excessive
  • Occur immediately in response to the feared object
  • Lead to avoidance and extreme distress
  • Be life-limiting and affect your ability to function normally

Additionally, your symptoms must be present for a minimum of six months and not be due to another disorder or illness.

Causes

Scientists are still unsure precisely what causes needle phobia. Like other specific phobias, a number of different factors may play a role. Some factors that may contribute to trypanophobia include:

  • Experience: Negative experiences involving needles or medical procedures may play a role in the onset of a needle phobia. Research has found that needle phobias tend to be common in people who have chronic conditions that require injections.
  • Genetics and family history: It seems to be inherited, as an estimated 80% of adults who have the condition reported having a first-degree relative that suffers from the same phobia. However, it's possible that the fear is learned rather than biologically inherited.
  • Evolutionary influences: Some evolutionary psychologists believe that fear may be rooted in an ancient survival technique. Puncture wounds could be deadly, particularly in the days before modern antibiotics. It's possible that a fear of puncturing the skin was an evolutionary adaptation.
  • Vasovagal reflex: In some cases, people may experience a vasovagal response to the sight of needles or to having their skin pierced by a needle. This response triggers a sudden drop in blood pressure that leads to dizziness and fainting. This fear reflex also tends to run in families.

Impact of Trypanophobia

Aside from the physical symptoms that usually accompany this condition, trypanophobia has the added danger of potentially altering behavior. People may avoid visiting the doctor or dentist so they don't have to have any injections.

Although the actual phobia is of needles, it can lead to a more generalized fear of medical and dental healthcare providers. In extreme cases, a person with this phobia may refuse to receive even routine checkups.

Treatment

Treatments for specific phobias usually involve psychotherapy, but medications may sometimes be prescribed to help people cope with symptoms of anxiety caused by the condition.

Psychotherapy

Exposure therapy is the treatment that is often recommended for treating specific phobias such as needle phobia. Through techniques such as systematic desensitization, you can gradually learn to tolerate needles.

The goal of systematic desensitization is to gradually expose you to needles in a controlled, safe setting, beginning with seeing a syringe without a needle, then a syringe with a needle, and eventually allowing you to handle the needle.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can also be highly effective in treating trypanophobia. Some experts have also found success using hypnotherapy with their patients.

Medication

Selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and other related medications may sometimes be prescribed to help decrease anxiety. Benzodiazepines can be in the short term to relieve acute anxiety symptoms.

Coping

One thing that may help you cope with a fear of needles and injections is finding ways to get treatment without needle injections. With new routes of medication distribution being developed all the time, a person with trypanophobia may be able to receive important treatment without being exposed to needles at all.

For instance, jet injection forces medication through the skin using high pressure. Jet injectors not only reduce the pain and fear associated with needles but also eliminate some of the risks of accidental needle sticks.

There are ways of testing blood sugar and performing other needed medical tests without needles. However, some medications and tests still require injections or blood draws, making the use of a needle sometimes unavoidable.

Self-help strategies that can help you cope with needle phobia include relaxation strategies such as deep breathing, visualization, and progressive muscle relaxation. You may also find meditation and mindfulness practices helpful.

When you do have to have some type of injection, distraction can also be a helpful technique. Try distracting yourself by listening to music or talking to another person during the procedure.

A Word From Verywell

Trypanophobia is a serious condition that should be treated, as it could eventually lead you to miss out on the medical care you need. And if a loved one has this phobia, take their concerns seriously. With the proper treatment, it's possible to overcome this potentially serious phobic condition.

If your phobia is interfering with your relationships, work, school, sleep, or normal activities, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional about your treatment options.

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7 Sources
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