Does the sight of blood make you feel faint or anxious? Maybe the very thought of undergoing certain medical procedures involving blood makes you feel sick to your stomach.
The term for the irrational fear of blood is hemophobia. It falls under the category of “specific phobia” with the specifier of blood-injection-injury (BII) phobia in the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
While some people may feel uneasy about blood from time to time, hemophobia is an extreme fear of seeing blood, or getting tests or shots where blood may be involved. This phobia can have a serious impact on your life, especially if you skip important doctor appointments as a result.
Phobias of all types share similar physical and emotional symptoms. With hemophobia, symptoms may be triggered by seeing blood in real life or on television. Some people may feel symptoms after thinking about blood or certain medical procedures, like a blood test.
Physical symptoms triggered by this phobia may include:
- trouble breathing
- rapid heart rate
- rightness or pain in chest
- shaking or trembling
- feeling nauseated around blood or injury
- hot or cold flashes
Emotional symptoms may include:
- extreme feelings of anxiety or panic
- overwhelming need to escape situations where blood is involved
- detachment from self or feeling “unreal”
- feeling like you’ve lost control
- feeling like you may die or pass out
- feeling powerless over your fear
Hemophobia is unique because it also produces what’s called a vasovagal response. A vasovagal response means you have a drop in your heart rate and blood pressure in response to a trigger, such as the sight of blood.
When this happens, you may feel dizzy or faint. Some 80 percent of people with BII phobia experience a vasovagal response, according to a 2014 survey. This response isn’t common with other specific phobias.
Children experience phobia symptoms in different ways. Children with hemophobia may:
- have tantrums
- become clingy
- refuse to leave their caregiver’s side around blood or situations where blood could be present
What are the risk factors?
Additional risk factors include:
- Genetics. Some people are more likely to develop phobias than others. There may be a genetic link, or you may be particularly sensitive or emotional by nature.
- Anxious parent or caregiver. You may learn to fear something after seeing fear patterned. For example, if a child sees their mother is fearful of blood, they may develop a phobia around blood, too.
- Overprotective parent or caregiver. Some people may develop a more generalized anxiety. This may result from being in an environment where you were overly dependent on an overprotective parent.
- Trauma. Stressful or traumatic events may lead to a phobia. With blood, this may be related to hospital stays or serious injuries involving blood.
While phobias often start in childhood, phobias in young kids generally revolve around things like fear of the dark, strangers, loud noises, or monsters. As children get older, between the ages of 7 and 16, fears are more likely to be focused around physical injury or health. This could include hemophobia.
The average age of onset for hemophobia is 9.3 years for males and 7.5 years for females.
How is this diagnosed?
If you suspect you may have hemophobia, make an appointment with your doctor. Diagnosis doesn’t involve needles or medical equipment. Instead, you’ll just chat with your doctor about your symptoms and how long you’ve experienced them. You may also give your personal health and family health history to help your doctor make a diagnosis.
Since hemophobia is officially recognized under the BII category of phobias in the DSM-5, your doctor may use the criteria from the manual to make a formal diagnosis. Be sure to write down any thoughts or symptoms you’ve had, as well as any questions or concerns you’d like to address during your appointment.
What are the treatment options?
Treatment for specific phobias isn’t always necessary, especially if the things feared aren’t a part of everyday life. For example, if a person has a fear of snakes, it’s unlikely they’ll encounter snakes often enough to warrant intensive treatment. Hemophobia, on the other hand, may cause you to skip doctor appointments, treatments, or other procedures. So, treatment may be critical to your overall health and well-being.
You may also want to seek treatment if:
- Your fear of blood brings about panic attacks, or severe or debilitating anxiety.
- Your fear is something you recognize as irrational.
- You’ve experienced these feelings for six months or longer.
Treatment options may include the following:
A therapist will guide exposure to your fears on an ongoing basis. You may engage in visualization exercises or dealing with your fear of blood head-on. Some exposure therapy plans blend these approaches. They can be incredibly effective, working in as little as one session.
A therapist may help you identify feelings of anxiety around blood. The idea is to replace the anxiety with more “realistic” thoughts of what may actually happen during tests or injuries involving blood.
Anything from deep breathing to exercise to yoga may help treat phobias. Engaging in relaxation techniques can help you diffuse stress and ease physical symptoms.
A method of therapy called applied tension may help with the fainting effects of hemophobia. The idea is to tense muscles in the arms, torso, and legs for timed intervals until your face feels flushed when you’re exposed to the trigger, which in this case would be blood. In one older study, participants who tried this technique were able to watch a half hour video of a surgery without fainting.
In severe cases, medication may be necessary. However, it’s not always an appropriate treatment for specific phobias. More research is needed, but it’s an option to discuss with your doctor.
Talk to your doctor about your fear of blood, especially if it’s starting to take over your life or making you skip routine health exams. Seeking help sooner rather than later may make treatment easier in the long run.
Not only that, but facing your own fears may also help prevent your children from developing hemophobia. While there’s certainly a genetic component to phobia, some of fear is learned behavior from others. With the right treatment, you can be on your way to recovery.