Iatrophobia is a fear of doctors, medical care, or the medical care system. This fear and anxiety can be so overwhelming that they interfere with a person’s ability to seek out regular healthcare.

A phobia is a strong and irrational fear of something that does not generally pose any significant danger. It is a type of anxiety disorder.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), around 12.5% of adults in the United States will experience a specific phobia at some point in their lives. Common phobias include:

  • acrophobia, the fear of heights
  • agoraphobia, the fear of public places
  • claustrophobia, the fear of closed-in places

Iatrophobia is the fear of doctors, medical care, and the medical system. Keep reading to learn more about iatrophobia, its symptoms, causes, and treatments.

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Someone with iatrophobia may experience obsessive worry about visiting a doctor. This may make it difficult for them to focus on other tasks leading up to their appointment.

Other symptoms of iatrophobia may include:

Individuals often experience these symptoms before entering any kind of healthcare setting. Once in that setting, they may feel severe symptoms of anxiety or panic, and they may even refuse to enter an examination room.

A person with iatrophobia may excessively worry about having to visit the doctor, even if they do not have any appointments scheduled. They may develop a fixation on minor ailments, which may cause them to worry they will have to see a doctor.

It is common for iatrophobia to occur alongside illness anxiety disorder. This is an ongoing fear of developing a serious or life threatening illness, despite not having any symptoms.

Another common occurrence in people with iatrophobia is white coat hypertension, also called white coat syndrome. This is when a person’s blood pressure is higher in a medical setting than it is in other places, such as at home.

Read about phobias.

It is not uncommon for people to feel anxiety about visiting the doctor to some extent. Occasional anxiety is a natural part of life.

Anxiety is a natural reaction to stress. Many people find visiting the doctor stressful. Some of the symptoms of anxiety can be similar to those of iatrophobia.

However, natural anxiety does not typically keep someone from following through with a doctor’s appointment or seeking medical advice about an issue. Iatrophobia, on the other hand, can keep a person from seeking medical care.

Read about anxiety.

A person may experience iatrophobia for various reasons. Researchers categorize this phobia into three categories:

  • fear of illness and the medical exam
  • fear of the reaction of the healthcare professional
  • fear related to potential barriers to care

Examples of fears people may experience that lead to iatrophobia include:

  • fear of embarrassment, pain, or discomfort during a physical exam
  • fear of receiving bad news
  • fear their symptoms may indicate a disease or condition
  • fear of whether their symptoms actually require medical attention
  • fear of a doctor trivializing their symptoms
  • fear of barriers, such as language or lack of knowledge
  • fear of being unable to afford treatment

A mental health professional can give a diagnosis of iatrophobia. Since common symptoms of iatrophobia are anxiety and nervousness about visiting a doctor, diagnosis can be difficult.

A mental health professional may ask questions about how much time an individual spends thinking about an upcoming doctor’s visit. They may also ask if the person is able to distract themself from the anxiety they experience.

Generally, anxiety does not keep a person from keeping appointments with a doctor. However, those with iatrophobia may delay vaccinations, check-ups, and other routine care. They may also choose to handle illness, even moderately serious illnesses, on their own rather than seeing a healthcare professional.

Treatment often helps people with a phobia, including iatrophobia. Treatment options may depend on the individual and their circumstances but may include therapy, medications, or both.

Cognitive behavioral therapy may help an individual overcome their doctor-related fears. Medication, such as benzodiazepines, can help temporarily relieve symptoms of anxiety. However, they do not address the root cause of iatrophobia.

Self-coping techniques may also help a person to manage their phobia symptoms. These techniques may include:

The following are some questions people frequently ask about iatrophobia and other phobias.

What percent of people have iatrophobia?

The exact percentage of people with iatrophobia is not clear. However, research shows it is common.

Is it trypanophobia or tomophobia?

Trypanophobia is the extreme fear of medical procedures that involve needles. Tomophobia is the extreme fear of surgery or medical interventions.

Iatrophobia is an extreme fear of doctors, medical care, or the medical care system.

Some anxiety before a doctor’s appointment is natural. However, generally, this does not stop a person from keeping an appointment. Individuals with iatrophobia may delay or avoid vaccinations, check-ups, and other routine care.

A mental health professional can help a person overcome iatrophobia through therapy, medication, or both. Self-coping techniques, such as meditation or yoga, can also help individuals manage their symptoms of anxiety.