Trypanophobia is the extreme fear of medical procedures involving injections or hypodermic needles. Even though 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 1994.1 Though specific to medical needles, this disorder is commonly referred to as “needle phobia” by the general public.2
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. However, at the time of the event, your blood pressure may rapidly drop. You may even faint.3
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, the sufferer may refuse to receive even routine checkups.4
Scientists are still unsure precisely what causes needle phobia. 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.5 However, the fear may be learned rather than biologically inherited.
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.5
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been highly effective in treating trypanophobia. Through techniques such as systematic desensitization, a variation of exposure therapy, you can gradually learn to tolerate needles. Some experts have also found success using hypnotherapy with their patients.1
The goal with these interventions 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.
Of course, 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 under the skin using high pressure. Jet injectors not only reduce the pain and fear associated with needles, but they also eliminate the risk of accidental needle sticks.6 Jet injectors are likely to become prominent in healthcare in the future.
There are ways of testing blood sugar and performing other needed medical tests without needles. However, some medications need to be given intravenously, making the use of a needle unavoidable.
Treatment Can Help
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 his or her concerns seriously. With the proper treatment, it’s possible to overcome this potentially serious phobic condition.