The Fear of Hospitals or Nosocomephobia

Patient sitting and waiting on hospital bed

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Nosocomephobia, or the fear of hospitals, is a surprisingly common medical phobia. In fact, U.S. President Richard Nixon was said to have a fear of hospitals, reportedly refusing treatment for a blood clot as he was concerned he would "not get out of the hospital alive."

What Is Nosocomephobia?

Many people who have hospital phobia are also afraid of doctors (or suffer "white coat syndrome," during which blood pressure actually rises at the doctor's office).

Some people are afraid of the building itself, others of what it represents. In this case, the choice of facilities can make a difference in your level of anxiety. Newer designs, for example, incorporate peaceful colors, spa-like facilities, and such patient comforts as Internet access and private rooms with beds for loved ones.

Surprisingly, many insurance providers will pay for either type of hospital, so check with your insurance provider. Although the fear of hospitals is understandable—after all, hospitals are by definition where people go when they are very ill or injured—it can interfere with getting the care you need.

This is especially true if you or someone you love experiences fear of hospitals along with other medical phobias, including:

  • Claustrophobia: Fear of enclosed spaces. If you suffer from claustrophobia, you might dread CT scans, MRIs and other tests that require confinement.
  • Hemophobia: Fear of blood
  • Latrophobia: Fear of doctors. Though doctors and dentists are the most common objects of medical-related fear. Some people are afraid of nurses, lab techs, and others in the medical field.
  • Mysophobia: Fear of germs
  • Nosophobia: Fear of developing a specific disease such as cancer or diabetes
  • Thanatophobia: Fear of death
  • Trypanophobia: Fear of needles

Nosocomephobia or Normal Anxiety

Since it's pretty normal to feel nervous before visiting a hospital, it can be difficult to tell whether your symptoms constitute a full-blown phobia. Only a qualified mental health professional can make this determination.

In general, however, someone with nosocomephobia may simply refuse to go to or enter a hospital, even in the case of major life-threatening conditions or events. In addition, they may realize the fear is irrational, but feel quite powerless to overcome it.

Other signs that may signify a fear of hospitals include:

  • Avoidance behavior or refusing to go to the hospital
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Excessive sweating
  • Feeling nauseated
  • Feelings of uncontrollable anxiety
  • A full-blown panic attack at the sight or thought of a hospital
  • Obsessive worrying
  • Shallow and rapid breathing
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  • American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

By Lisa Fritscher
Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics.