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What is Iatrophobia?

written by: Justin Davis • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 12/29/2010

Iatrophobia, or the fear of doctors, is a common phobia experienced by both children and adults. But what are the causes, symptoms and treatments of iatrophobia? Continue reading to find out more about the fear of doctors.

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    What is Iatrophobia?

    For many Americans, going to the doctor's office, while not fun, is a relatively simple activity that helps the public stay fit and healthy. For those with iatrophobia, visiting the doctor is a painful, traumatic experience, and many simply choose not to go. Iatrophobia is a common mental health disorder that is characterized by severely anxious thoughts and behaviors about doctors. For many iatrophobes, simply watching a commercial about medicine can cause extreme anxiety.

    As with other specific phobias, it is important to understand the causes, symptoms and treatments of iatrophobia in order to help those affected by it.

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    Causes of Iatrophobia

    The causes of iatrophobia are typically associated with past traumatic experiences involving doctors. For many patients, one such example is the death or serious illness of a friend or family member immediately following a doctor's visit. For others, iatrophobia may be brought on by a misdiagnosis or serious malpractice. In those with severe iatrophobia, even learning that a friend is a doctor can cause extreme anxiety and panic.

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    Symptoms of Iatrophobia

    People who have the fear of doctors know that their fears are irrational, but cannot control them.

    The symptoms include:

    • Intense anxiety
    • An urge to escape
    • Sweating
    • Rapid heartbeat
    • Feelings of panic

    Many of the symptoms listed above can strike any time the image of a doctor is seen, or details of a doctor's visit are heard.

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    Treatments for Iatrophobia

    In many cases, specific phobias tend to become worse over time, to the point where some patients require medication in order to function in the outside world. Luckily, there are several promising treatment options available to those who have the intense fear of doctors.

    Systematic Desensitization, or exposure therapy, focuses on slowly exposing patients to their fears, thus minimizing the symptoms and effects of the phobia. For example, the first step may be talking to the patient about doctors' offices and getting them to explain exactly what it is that makes them afraid. Then the patient may look at pictures of doctors or hospitals. Once the patient is more comfortable with these pictures, they may continue with the therapy by talking to doctors on the phone, meeting them in a neutral situation, and finally going to a hospital. Systematic desensitization has been proven to be effective for patients with iatrophobia.

    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a commonly used therapy for anxiety and panic disorder patients. CBT focuses on the patients' fears and their underlying thought processes to ultimately challenge the original causes of the phobia.

    In some cases, anti-anxiety medications may be prescribed for patients with iatrophobia. Generally speaking, medication is only effective for short term symptom treatment.

    In order to be effectively treated, patients with iatrophobia should seek help from mental health professionals.

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