Scared to go to doctor

How to Deal with Fear of Doctors

For some people, going to a medical appointment can be a source of great stress. It’s not just major medical problems and procedures that cause stress, either. Even preventive care visits, routine vaccinations, and basic care can cause some people to have a fear of going to the doctor.

What is a phobia of doctors?

A phobia is an intense fear of a particular thing, sometimes for no real reason. Some people have such an intense fear of doctors that they are said to have a phobia of doctors. The clinical word for this is, “iatrophobia.”

For some people, this phobia of doctors may manifest itself as general anxiety. For others it could be outright panic.

Why do some people have a fear of going to the doctor?

There can be many reasons a person has a fear of doctors. It could be fear of certain medical procedures, the pain of certain procedures, an anticipated diagnosis, fear that developed due to a bad experience with a certain doctor or during a prior visit to a doctor.

Some people are petrified of needles and are scared that they will have to have a blood test or vaccinations during their doctor visits.

Fear of doctors could also have no rational basis in reality, which is common for many types of phobias.

How do I know if I have a phobia of doctors?

It’s not uncommon to be nervous or a little anxious before a doctor visit—many people are. But a phobia is much more than that. Here are a few signs and symptoms that your fear may be more like a phobia:

  • You cancel doctor appointments or keep rescheduling them to avoid dealing with the fear; you don’t even get the preventive care and important vaccinations you may need to help stay healthy.
  • Instead of seeing a doctor when you’re sick, you try and self-treat.
  • In advance of a doctor appointment, you are unable to concentrate on anything else, lose sleep, may not eat, or cry at the thought of the upcoming appointment.
  • Do you have a fear of dentists, hospitals, and even sickness or illnesses? Some or all of these other types of fears are commonly combined with a fear of doctors.

If you experience any of the above you should talk to a therapist about your fear. They will be able to tell you if your anxiety and nerves about visiting the doctor are actually a phobia.

What are some ways to help overcome a fear of doctors:

  • If you are often afraid of going to the doctor, begin by asking yourself: Are you worried about a particular procedure or a diagnosis? Are you intimidated by doctors’ offices or hospital rooms? Would you be more comfortable with a different doctor?
  • Find support. A therapist may be able to help you understand if your fear of doctors is rational. They can help you find the true source of your anxiety and educate you on how to best manage your fear.
  • Bring a friend who can support you through doctors’ appointments. Perhaps a close friend or family member to provide moral support can help you get through the fear of a doctor appointment.
  • Get a new doctor or try another type of primary care provider. You may get along better with a new doctor, even a nurse practitioner or physician assistant. Consider finding a provider whose personality or outlook you prefer.
  • In advance of an appointment, ask the doctor or health professional how many tests or procedures there will be so you know what to expect.

Managing any fear begins with understanding its source. If you’re not sure why you have a phobia of doctors, consider talking to a therapist for objective insight. The above tips on overcoming a fear of doctors may offer you some practical solutions.

4 Big Barriers to Seeing a Doctor and How to Get Over Them

Admit it: You haven’t been to the doctor in a really long time. You had your reasons. Maybe you didn’t have insurance (but now you can get it because of Obamacare), or you didn’t know how to find a good doctor and kept putting off the search. Perhaps you told yourself you don’t have time, or you’re simply afraid of what you might find out if you go. Your doctor could give you bad news, right?

Going to the doctor may not be on the top of your to-do list, but for compelling reasons, it should be. Regular, consistent healthcare can help catch small problems before they become serious health issues. It pays to see your doctor regularly, not just when a problem becomes so unbearable that you’re desperate and it’s not easily treatable.

Since the Affordable Care Act rollout, many more people are insured and seeking care. Even if you’re not among the millions who recently joined the ranks of the insured, chances are you may have put off one or more preventive health measures — things like immunizations and cancer screening tests — or just let way too much time go by between doctor visits.

Here’s what you can do now to get back in gear and overcome these four barriers to preventive care.

1. You Are Uninsured

The harsh reality might be that you put off until tomorrow the care you should get today because of a lack of health insurance coverage. This is still true for an estimated 13 percent of the U.S. population, according to a July 2014 Gallup poll.

The first step is to get coverage, through Medicare or Medicaid, or by enrolling through a healthcare marketplace. The next open enrollment period for Affordable Care Act-mandated health insurance marketplaces will be in November 2014. But special enrollment is available at any time for certain groups and circumstances. You can sign up now if you:

  • Recently married or divorced
  • Gave birth to or adopted a child, or placed a child for adoption or foster care
  • Were recently released from jail or prison
  • Are a new U.S. citizen
  • Are a member of a federally recognized tribe
  • Are an Alaska native shareholder
  • Involuntarily lost your health coverage, such as when your employer stopped coverage or you lost a job
  • Have aged out of your parents’ insurance plan
  • Moved out of your current insurance coverage area
  • Own a small business and are applying for coverage for your employees

2. You Don’t Know How to Find a Good Doctor

You may have given up on regular check-ups because you’re unsure where to go for care — or maybe you’re one of those people who just go to the ER when you’re sick. That’s not a good idea because ERs are costly and not the place for routine care. Finding and establishing a good relationship with a primary care doctor is the way to get yourself back on the preventive medicine track.

To find the right primary care provider for you, here are a few things you can do:

  • Ask friends and relatives whom they recommend and why.
  • Look online for recommendation and ratings sites, like ZocDoc or Vitals, to find good doctors in your area.
  • Check your insurer’s approved in-network list of providers to see if the recommended doctors take your coverage.

Once you’ve found a primary care provider and made an appointment, ask them about preventive care steps you need to take at this stage of your life. You may find it’s time for vaccinations to protect you from flu or shingles, or routine blood tests to assess your heart disease risk, such as a cholesterol test. The usual prevention steps for, say, a woman in her fifties will also include cancer screenings — for breast, lung, cervical, and colon cancer — to uncover early signs of disease, when these conditions are easier to treat and your chances of recovery are better.

When you have a primary care doctor you like, reserve the ER for life-threatening situations only — like stroke or heart attack — where every minute counts.

RELATED: 10 Cancer Screenings Every Woman Should Know About

3. You Think You Don’t Have Time to Go to the Doctor

Time is precious, and you may not be able to take time off from work and a busy schedule to sneak in preventive care visits. But the time you spend now can keep you from getting sick later on and dealing with complications of serious diseases. For example, delay in dealing with the abnormal heart rhythm known as atrial fibrillation, afib, causes worse long term outcomes and puts you at risk for stroke and heart failure.

When you do go to the doctor, be prepared so you can make the best use of your time and your doctor’s. Put together a list of questions reflecting your most important health concerns, and ask what tests you might need, what the results will mean, and when you will receive them.

4. You’re Afraid to Go to the Doctor

Fear of doctors or of bad health news is a barrier to preventive care for some people, sometimes because of bad experiences in the past, or because you have an anxiety disorder that makes it hard for you to get to the doctor, such as:

  • Claustrophobia, which is anxiety about being in a small space like a waiting or exam room
  • Agoraphobia, or fear of leaving your home
  • Social phobia, which could include fear of doctors and medical care

People may not recognize that they have a social anxiety disorder and may rearrange their schedules and plans to avoid a feared meeting, according to Charles Goodstein, MD, professor of psychiatry at New York University Langone Medical Center. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston found that long-term cancer survivors were over three times as likely to have medical phobia, compared with other patients. The good news is that anxiety and most phobias respond well to treatment with medication or counselling, if you reach out for help.

For some, unhealthy habits you can’t shake may keep you from seeking care — for example, if you’re afraid that your doctor will be disappointed or disapproving about your weight or smoking, or you just don’t want to hear the message again because you don’t know what to do to change these habits. But the truth is your doctor may have new options to recommend for losing weight, and one of the newer smoking cessation medications could help you give up cigarettes.

Overcoming trepidation and keeping up with your preventive healthcare visits is important so that you don’t miss out on routine screenings, like your hepatitis C screening — now recommended once for everyone born between the years of 1945 and 1965. And even if you haven’t been able to lose weight or stop smoking, getting your annual flu vaccine, and a tetanus diphtheria booster every 10 years will protect you from potentially serious diseases down the road. If you are 60 or over, you’ll need one dose of the shingles vaccine too, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC. Taking these steps now will get you on the right path for good health in the years to come.

Main Content

Does the feeling of walking into a doctor’s office, waiting for your name to be called, changing into a gown and going through a series of tests fill you with dread? You’re not alone.

Three percent of the population have a phobia of doctors, but many more put off seeing a physician because they’re anxious about how it will go or don’t want to hear bad news.

But seeing your doctor for regular checkups alleviates you of the unknown. And when you notice a troubling symptom, it is crucial to catch small problems before they become more serious. Here are the top reasons people are afraid of going to the doctor, and how to overcome those fears:

  1. You have unhealthy habits you can’t shake.
    Some people dread having to admit to their doctor that they eat a little too much fast food or haven’t exercised since high school. Some say they don’t want to listen to someone remind them of what they already know. But doctors are trained to be supportive. Their focus is not to judge, but to offer realistic suggestions to improve your health.
  1. You have a symptom that makes you worry it could be something serious.
    Many people say they don’t want to hear a diagnosis. But catching something early is often key to making sure it doesn’t turn into a larger health issue. If you don’t know how to bring something up that you’re worried about, there are plenty of tips for opening the dialogue with your doctor.
  1. You’re worried about how to pay for it.
    Since the Affordable Care Act took effect, the uninsured rate in Michigan has dropped from 12.5 percent to 8.5 percent. And for all of those with a plan, preventive care is covered. If you are one of the Michiganders who is still uninsured, now is the time to sign up for a 2016 plan and ensure you are covered for preventive health measures, such as immunizations or screening tests.
  1. You worry about how long a doctor’s visit can take.
    It can be tough to coordinate a trip to the doctor’s office around your busy schedule, but the short time you spend visiting the doctor now can prevent health issues later on. One way to make the most of your visit is to put together a list of all your health concerns. This way when you visit the doctor, you’ll have all of your questions answered in the appointment.

Interested in learning more about how non-scary a trip to your primary doctor can be? Try reading these other posts:

  • 5 Ways To Reduce Your Wait Time At The Doctor’s Office
  • 5 Tips For Choosing a New Doctor
  • Switching Doctors? What You Need To Know

Photo credit: Army Medicine

Hi Chimpfan71,

I understand how terrifying this must be – I, myself, don’t suffer from anxiety but I do know several people that do & it takes a lot for them to see their GP, but once they’ve done it they can then manage to focus on the next step (should there be one). Anxiety & depression are debilitating, however, leaving something that has the possibility of being a serious health risk needs to be considered fully. The longer it’s left the more chance it will be more serious. I’m not saying the growth on your leg is something serious, but until it’s checked out you won’t know. The longer you don’t know the more you will worry which feeds your anxiety. So at some point your anxiety is going to be worse if you don’t know, than if you do.

Do you have anyone you are close to & can trust that you can confide your fears in? Would they be happy to accompany you to the GP to give you support? Perhaps ring the GP first & explain your anxiety & depression – they may arrange for a practice nurse to be there when you attend, for more support. Once you get there the GP may say that the growth is a benign condition & your fears will be laid to rest. If the GP says they are unsure & want to refer you to the dermatology clinic at the hospital don’t panic – this is routine as the dermatologist knows far more about lumps, bumps, spots etc than a GP. If you have been under the same GP for some time & they treat you for your anxiety etc they will be very considerate & supportive at your appointment.

So, my advice is to find someone you can go with for support, tell your GP about your anxiety beforehand so they can accomodate you accordingly at your appointment and meanwhile seek out something to distract you or to help you through – have you tried meditation or mindfulness? Anything to stop the thoughts racing through your mind. Hopefully it will all turn out fine – the good thing (although it may not appear to be a positive to you at the moment) is that you have noticed and caught this early and that you are aware that sunbed use is harmful so you are being very proactive by coming on here and voicing your fears. Good luck and please let us know how you get on,

Angie (skin cancer patient)

If you’re like a lot of guys, you probably haven’t had a physical in a while. Men are 24% less likely than women to have seen a doctor in the past year. Yet men are more likely to check into the hospital for congestive heart failure, diabetes-related problems, and pneumonia. These are all issues that you might prevent with checkups.

Now, you don’t have to go every year, but if it’s been more than 2 years since you’ve seen your primary care doc, it’s probably time to make that appointment.

What happens at a physical and how often you need one depend on your health and your age. The physical itself is a head-to-toe exam, and men over 50 can expect a rectal exam to check for prostate problems, intestinal bleeding, and early signs of prostate and colorectal cancers.

A typical visit also includes a blood pressure check, which you should have at least every 2 years, and giving blood samples. Doctors use blood tests to check for diabetes and cholesterol level. Adults older than 20 who don’t have risk factors for heart disease should have their cholesterol checked every 4 to 6 years. Adults who are overweight or have high blood pressure should get a diabetes screening test.

Chronic diseases and cancers may not show any symptoms at first, but you stand the best chance of curing or managing them when your doctor catches them early.

“Somebody may have severe diabetes and not have any symptoms, so certainly there’s opportunity to turn some of those things around if they’re detected early,” says Clark T. Eddy, DO, of ProPartnersMD. That’s a medical group in the Kansas City area that specializes in men’s health.

During your checkup, you’ll answer questions that can help your doctor see signs of depression or habits that might be a risk to your health. Depending on your lifestyle and personal and family history, your doctor might suggest more tests. The doctor will also recommend vaccines based on your age and lifestyle.

“Even if you haven’t been to a doctor in 20 years,” Eddy says, “coming in for a physical is the first step to being a more active participant in your health.”

I haven’t been to a doctor for many years, and I am so worried?

Hi, I am very sorry if this sounds like a stupid question, but there is no-one in my life I can talk to. I am crying as I write this. I am in my forties and have not been to a doctor for about 8 years, and even then it was only to have my babies. I have never really had a regular doctor for myself. Even when I had my children, I just went to the public hospital clinic for antenatal care, had them, and came home. No follow up at all. Of course my children do go to the doctors, but it’s always my husband who takes them. He usually needs to go anyway too, because he takes regular asthma medication and often has other little issues. I don’t think the issue is being scared of the doctor. At least I don’t think so. But I just never go to the doctor for myself. I feel embarrassed about this. When someone says “Who’s your doctor?”, I never really know what to say because I just don’t have one. I don’t take birth control as my husband has had a vasectomy, I don’t have any kind of thing that would give me an excuse to visit a doctor, no asthma, diabetes, or anything like that. However, I don’t really feel very well sometimes, and at my age I feel it would be good to have a doctor. But if I went to one, I don’t know what to say! If I’m not actually sick, I just don’t know what to say. I have a bit of a weight problem now, but I can’t really go and just say “I’m fat”, can I? I am in tears about this. I feel I may need a doctor one day, but I don’t have one, and I don’t really know how to start having one. I don’t seem to get any colds or flus or anything that would give me a good reason to see a doctor. I feel upset, and stupid. What do you think I should do? I am worried that as I get older, some things may go undetected because I haven’t got a doctor. I would be so grateful for any kind, understanding advice. Thank you to anyone who takes the time to answer me. I really, really appreciate it.

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It’s a common question and one that many people cringe to think about but according to a recent Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, 92% of Americans believe it’s important to get an annual physical. The problem is that only 62% actually do. Some of this is a result of people being unsure as to how often they should get a physical examination. If you tend to see your doctor only when you’re sick, you may be shortchanging your health. Annual wellness visits can help spot potential problems before they get serious. Plus, it’s important to keep track of key measurements over time.

How often do you need a physical?

Just as everyone has different medical needs, your ideal physical schedule depends on your situation. If you’re generally healthy, you may only need occasional preventive screenings based on your age.

General adult physical schedule:

  • For ages 19-21, once every 2-3 years
  • For ages 22-64, once ever 1-3 years
  • Over 65, once a year

If you smoke or have risk factors for certain conditions, your doctor may suggest you come in more often. And if you’re one of the 144 million Americans living with one or more chronic conditions, like diabetes, heart disease, or depression, work with your physician to create a custom check-up schedule.

Regardless of your circumstances, regular visits help you build a relationship and history with your primary care provider. And routine blood tests establish your unique health baseline. We’re all a little different, and what’s normal for you is not necessarily what’s normal for others. So having your own track record for blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose levels will help you quickly spot any early signs of trouble.

Only you and your doctor can determine your best checkup and screening schedule. But here are some National Institute of Health guidelines for men and women based on age.

Guidelines for everyone

Even if you’re in good shape, take regular preventive steps to stay that way.

  • Have your blood pressure checked every 2 years.
  • Make sure important vaccinations are up to date:
    • Tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis immunization booster within the last 10 years
    • Chicken pox if you’ve never had a vaccination or the disease
    • Measles-mumps-rubella if you weren’t inoculated as a child
    • Meningitis if you’re under 24 and never had a vaccination.
    • Hepatitis A or B if you’re at high risk
    • Annual flu shot

After age 40:

  • Have cholesterol screenings every 5 years.
  • Screen for colorectal cancer with a fecal occult blood test every year or a colonoscopy every 10 years.

After age 55:

  • If you’re a current smoker or quit fewer than 15 years ago, have regular lung cancer screenings.
  • After 60, get an annual shingles vaccination.
  • After 65, have a pneumococcal vaccination.

Also, check in with your doctor if you’re feeling depressed, have questions about medication, or want advice on how to lose weight or quit smoking. He or she can share clinically proven strategies that will work with your lifestyle and minimize risks.

Guidelines for women

In addition to the screenings everyone needs, women should have an annual pelvic and breast exam.

Women between ages 18 and 29:

  • Ensure you have a complete HPV vaccination.
  • Get a pap smear to test for cervical cancer every 3 years.

Women between ages 30 and 49:

  • Get a pap smear every 5 years.
  • Consult your doctor about whether you should have mammograms.

Women between ages 50 and up:

  • Get annual mammograms until age 75.
  • Have a pap smear every 5 years until 65 or 70.
  • Test for bone density with a DEXA scan after age 50.

After menopause or if you’ve had a hysterectomy, your doctor may recommend a different screening schedule.

Guidelines for men

Until age 50, most men can follow the general health guidelines. This is a great time to take some baseline measurements for comparison later.

Men ages 50 and up:

  • Have a bone density (DEXA) scan. (Although osteoporosis is more commonly associated with women, men can suffer bone loss as well.)
  • Ask your doctor whether you should have prostate cancer screening given your family history.
  • After 65, if you do or have smoked, get an ultrasound to screen for abdominal aortic aneurysms.

Under the Affordable Care Act, most insurance will cover the entire cost of procedures like immunizations, cancer screenings, and blood tests. So if you haven’t had a regular checkup recently, make an appointment now. A little preventive healthcare today can buy you a happier, healthier, and longer future.

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