Some people may feel uncomfortable or stressed when visiting hospitals or undergoing medical procedures. People can speak with a doctor or someone close to them to determine the best management strategies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or medications.

Two nurses walking along a corridorShare on Pinterest
monkeybusinessimages/Getty Images

Many people avoid going to the hospital for various reasons, such as fear of an upcoming procedure or fear of receiving a difficult diagnosis.

Hospital anxiety can cause someone to delay or prolong crucial medical treatments or negatively affect their recovery. It is also possible for people with medical conditions to have undiagnosed depression or anxiety.

Read on to learn about hospital anxiety, including its signs, potential causes, diagnosis, treatments, prevention, and frequently asked questions.

Hospital anxiety is an anxious response to visiting hospitals or undergoing medical procedures.

People with hospital anxiety also have an intense preoccupation with uncomfortable or painful consequences of visiting the hospital, such as when preparing for an invasive procedure or major surgery.

Hospital anxiety is not a formal mental health diagnosis. And some aspects of the hospital visit may elicit more anxiety than others, such as getting an injection or waiting for test results.

Hospital anxiety can include several types of healthcare or hospital-related phobias, including:

Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder. Thinking about the source of a phobia (known as anticipatory anxiety) or coming into contact with it may trigger symptoms.

See a comprehensive list of phobias.

Some possible symptoms include:

  • excessive or irrational worry about the feared object or situation
  • actively avoiding the feared object or situation
  • immediate, intense anxiety upon encountering the feared object or situation
  • intense anxiety when enduring the object or situation

Physical symptoms

Anxiety may also cause a range of physical symptoms, such as:

  • restlessness
  • irritability
  • difficulty concentrating
  • feeling on edge
  • a sense of dread or fear


Children use behavior instead of words to show anxiety, fear, and helplessness. These behaviors may include:

  • aggression
  • lack of cooperation
  • withdrawal
  • regression

For some, hospital anxiety may have its roots in early childhood. Fear of clinics may result from a severe negative or traumatic event related to clinics, such as a loved one dying in the hospital or witnessing an attempted revival.

According to a 2019 study on the frequency of depression and anxiety symptoms among hospitalized surgical patients, other possible causes include:

  • unfamiliar hospital environment
  • exposure to strange instruments
  • insufficient privacy
  • financial concerns
  • a prolonged hospital stay
  • disease stress

Additional possible causes include:

  • holding a negative view of doctors and hospitals
  • repeatedly or persistently thinking about a scary or traumatic hospital experience
  • adopting another person’s fear, such as one’s family member
  • being exposed to inaccurate or incorrect information
  • being hypersensitive to pain
  • experiencing any traumatic event that puts a person in a defenseless or vulnerable position
  • living with significant long-term stress

Problems paying medical bills and a person’s insurance status may also cause mental health symptoms such as hospital anxiety.

Doctors use the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) to measure symptoms of psychological distress in the general population, primary care patients, and others.

It consists of 14 items and has two subscales: the HADS anxiety and HADS depression subscales. The HADS anxiety subscale focuses mainly on symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

Doctors also use the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DMS-5-TR), to diagnose specific phobias.

For a person to have a specific phobia of hospitals, they must experience marked, persistent anxiety or fear of a specific situation or object for 6 months or more, along with all the following:

  • The situation or object almost always triggers immediate fear or anxiety.
  • They actively avoid the object or situation.
  • The fear or anxiety is out of proportion to the actual danger.
  • The fear or anxiety causes significant distress or significantly impairs their daily functioning.

The treatment of hospital anxiety depends on its root cause, the person’s symptoms and overall well-being, and how significantly it affects the person’s life.

Anecdotal evidence suggests treatments may involve:

A person with hospital anxiety may ask their healthcare practitioner if they need a referral to a mental health specialist who can devise a treatment plan to help treat their symptoms. These may include counselors and psychiatrists.

A person may wish to try the following tips to help relieve their hospital anxiety:

  • pausing and distracting oneself
  • doing deep breathing
  • facing one’s fears
  • imagining the worst and thinking about the possibility of it occurring
  • looking at the reality
  • not aiming for perfection
  • visualizing a happy memory

Other prevention tips

A 2016 study suggested ways for healthcare professionals to help prevent or reduce healthcare-induced anxiety and trauma. These include:

  • Choices: Offer a person power in a powerless environment.
  • Agenda: Inform the person and their families of what to expect and what healthcare professionals expect of them.
  • Resilience: Highlight strengths and reframe negatives.
  • Emotional support: Recognize and normalize a person’s fears and responses.

Other helpful things include discussing one’s previous experiences with their healthcare team. This can help anticipate the aspects of the procedures that may be difficult for someone and work out a plan with them.

According to a 2015 study, modifying the hospital environment can alleviate a patient’s stress by providing possibilities for social support, a sense of control, and positive distraction.

Below are some frequently asked questions.

How do I get over hospital anxiety?

There are many ways to get over hospital anxiety. It may include coping strategies such as deep breathing and mental imagery. Some may need mental health treatments such as CBT.

Why do people have anxiety at a hospital?

A past negative or traumatic experience may cause a person to have hospital anxiety. Other possible causes include the following:

  • exposure to false or misleading ideas about hospitals and healthcare
  • lack of knowledge about the condition and what to expect
  • hypersensitivity to pain
  • prolonged stress

Does being in a hospital cause anxiety?

Being in a hospital setting may cause anxiety for a variety of reasons, such as a past traumatic event. The environment itself can also trigger anxiety, especially if it is unfamiliar, does not offer sufficient privacy, or exposes a person to seemingly strange instruments.

Is it normal to be scared of hospitals?

Many people are uncomfortable being in hospitals. However, a person with an intense, overwhelming fear of hospitals needs help if it hinders them from receiving treatment and other necessary medical care.

A person can discuss their fears with a family member, friend, or medical professional to determine the best way to manage their anxiety.

Hospital anxiety is an intense fear or anxiety about being in a hospital. Its symptoms can range from mild to severe and significantly affect a person’s daily functioning. It can prevent a person from receiving timely care, which makes it essential to recognize and address promptly.