Hemophobia is the term for an irrational fear of blood. The phobia is not the same as the normal uneasiness about seeing blood that applies to most people.

Rather, it is an extreme fear of seeing blood or being in any situation that may involve blood. This phobia can have a serious impact on a person, as they may avoid doctor’s visits or medical care for fear of seeing blood.

In this article, we look at the definition of hemophobia, as well as causes, symptoms, risk factors, and treatment for hemophobia.

Red man road crossing close up, an artistic representation of hemophobiaShare on Pinterest
Busà Photography/Getty Images

Hemophobia is an abnormal and persistent fear of blood. It is a subtype of blood, injury, and injection phobia. When a person has this phobia, they dread the sight of blood. This fear often includes their own blood, another person or animal’s, or even an image of blood.

Experts in a 2014 analysis estimate that hemophobia has a prevalence of 3–4% in the general population, meaning that it is relatively common. Up to 80% of people with hemophobia experience a vasovagal response when they see blood. This means their blood pressure drops suddenly in response to the stress of seeing blood, which causes their heart to slow and prevents the brain from receiving enough oxygen-rich blood. This in turn leads to fainting.

Hemophobia is a specific phobia, which is an extreme fear of a specific situation or object that is out of proportion to the actual threat presented. A person with a specific phobia can experience day-to-day interference in their life because of the phobia.

There are five types of specific phobias:

  • Blood, injury and injections: This type of phobia, which includes hemophobia, could make a person fear going to the doctor or dentist.
  • Animal: This type of phobia includes arachnophobia, the fear of spiders.
  • Natural environment: This type of phobia includes a fear of open water or heights.
  • Situational: Phobias such as claustrophobia (the fear of enclosed spaces) fall under this category.
  • Other types: This type of phobia includes fears that do not fit into the categories above, such as fears of choking, loud noises, and vomiting.

Hemophobia often develops after a person experiences direct trauma in childhood or adolescence, but it may also develop as a result of vicarious trauma. For example, a person may have heard a friend talk about their frightening experience of being in open water and then develop a fear as a result.

Emotional and physical symptoms of hemophobia when seeing blood may include:

  • feelings of panic and anxiety
  • trouble breathing
  • fainting
  • sweating
  • rapid heart rate
  • chest pain
  • a desire to escape the situation
  • confusion
  • dizziness
  • nausea

Risk factors for hemophobia include:

  • Comorbid psychoneurotic disorders: People who experience other psychological conditions, like panic disorders and agoraphobia, are at a higher risk of developing hemophobia.
  • Gender: Women are more likely than men to experience this phobia.
  • Genetics: A person who has close relatives with this phobia is more likely to develop it.
  • Trauma involving blood: A person who experiences blood-related trauma, especially during childhood or adolescence, is at a higher risk for hemophobia.

There are various treatment options for hemophobia. These include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This involves a therapist teaching a person ways of stopping the panic reaction to blood and providing people with skills and strategies to help regulate their emotions. The therapist may help a person identify triggers for the anxiety and feelings that they have around blood. The therapist may also help a person replace their anxious thoughts and feelings with more constructive ones.
  • Exposure therapy: This type of therapy involves the therapist gradually or rapidly exposing a person to the situation that induces their phobic reaction. This can involve visualization exercises or exposing the client to blood directly, guiding them in a safe environment.
  • Applied tension therapy: This therapy involves a person learning to apply tension to their muscles by tensing their legs, arms, and abdomen, which could help prevent fainting.
  • Relaxation therapy: This can involve breathing exercises, meditation, visualization exercises, and yoga. These practices can help a person reduce the stress associated with their phobia and help ease the symptoms.

Hemophobia is an irrational and persistent fear of blood. The condition can have a significant negative impact on people who experience it, as they may avoid necessary medical or dental treatments due to their extreme fear of being exposed to blood.

Hemophobia usually begins in childhood and is often caused by trauma involving blood, either directly or vicariously.

A person may be at higher risk of the phobia due to genetics, gender, experiencing trauma involving blood at a young age, and having comorbid psychoneurotic disorders.

A therapist can treat hemophobia with CBT, exposure therapy, applied tension therapy, and relaxation therapy.