Trypanophobia is a type of phobia that involves a severe fear of needles or anxiety related to injections and medical care involving the use of needles. This can be problematic both because of the symptoms and because some people delay or avoid necessary medical care due to fear and anxiety. Trypanophobia is also sometimes referred to as needle phobia.
The most telling symptom of trypanophobia is an extreme aversion to needles, sometimes severe enough that it interferes with seeking and accepting medical care, or it interferes with life. There are other symptoms, too, including physical symptoms.
Symptoms of Trypanophobia
- Aversion to needles
- Panic attacks
- Preoccupation before medical or dental procedures
- Treatment and medical or dental care avoidance
- Feeling of intense fear or anxiety at the thought of injections
- Aggression prior to or during procedures involving needles
- Sudden heart rate increase and then decrease
- Sudden blood pressure increase and then decrease
- Breathing changes
- Intensified pain with injections
Trypanophobia can be present in all genders, children, and adults. It can be diagnosed by a mental health provider such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.
To be diagnosed, the fear of injections must:
- Be consistent or happen nearly every time the person faces injections
- Be considered out of proportion compared to social norms
- Lead to avoidance of injections, intense anxiety with injections
- Last six months or more
- Not be caused by something else
How Phobia Is Diagnosed
It is estimated that roughly 3.5 percent to 10 percent of people have trypanophobia; 80 percent of people with trypanophobia have a close relative with a phobia of injections as well. There can be a genetic component to the phobia.
Another cause is a previous traumatic experience with injections, possibly a response that causes them to faint or nearly faint. There is possibly an evolutionary response to the dangers of sharp objects puncturing the skin. The cause of trypanophobia partially depends on the type.
There are multiple types of trypanophobia that vary in traits and causes:
- Vasovagal trypanophobia
- Associative trypanophobia
- Resistive trypanophobia
- Hyperalgesic trypanophobia
- Vicarious trypanophobia
Vasovagal trypanophobia is a type of trypanophobia that involves a vasovagal reaction. A vasovagal reaction is when a person experiences a sudden increase and then decrease of heart rate and blood pressure. The changes in heart rate and blood pressure can cause fainting.
It is not entirely clear if the vasovagal response causes vasovagal trypanophobia or if trypanophobia causes the vasovagal response. However, it is believed that this fainting response is inherited and then leads to a phobia of injections due to associating them with the negative experience of fainting, which creates a cycle. In extremely rare cases, this type of trypanophobia can lead to heart attack or stroke.
Associative trypanophobia is a type of trypanophobia linked to a traumatic event. A person with this fear of injections may have experienced a medical procedure that was extremely painful or had a severe reaction to a previous injection, for example. Less commonly, the person with associative trypanophobia may have been with someone else who experienced an extremely painful medical procedure or injection reaction.
Regardless of the specific details, this type of injection phobia is caused by an association between injections and a negative experience.
Resistive trypanophobia is a type of trypanophobia that involves a fear of being controlled. The cause could be previous needle experiences that required them to be restrained, most commonly during childhood.
Some people with this type of trypanophobia may become aggressive or violent when in situations involving injections, which may result in the need for them to be restrained to prevent injury to themselves or others. In this type of trypanophobia, there is a fear of both the needle and the control or restraint.
Hyperalgesic trypanophobia is a type of trypanophobia linked to an increased feeling of physical pain or increased sensitivity to the physical pain. Children tend to feel the physical pain of injections more intensely than adults.
Increased sensitivity or pain from needles and associated fear may also be caused or intensified by injury, inflammation, stress, arthritis, autoimmune conditions, chronic diseases, or adverse childhood experiences. With this type of trypanophobia, the fear of injections has more to do with the physical pain than the actual needle or injection.
Vicarious trypanophobia is a type of trypanophobia that involves an extreme fear of injections when someone else is experiencing the encounter with the needle.
A person with vicarious trypanophobia can experience the same symptoms of the other types of trypanophobia, including a vasovagal response, when witnessing someone else receiving an injection. Similarly, trypanophobia can be caused by witnessing someone else having a traumatic experience with a needle or medical procedure.
Treatment options for trypanophobia include therapy and medications. There are also coping strategies that may help to prevent fears and anxieties and to lessen their severity when they do occur.
How Phobia Is Treated
Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is an effective psychotherapy treatment often used for trypanophobia. It involves strategies that consider the connections between thoughts, behaviors, and emotions.
This treatment may also include systematic desensitization therapy (i.e., exposure therapy), which uses increasing levels of exposure to the fear in a safe, controlled environment in order to lessen the fear response. Hypnosis has also been found to be effective.
When needles are needed, sometimes a medication is applied to the skin first so the pain sensation is lessened or not felt at all. When sedation is needed for an operation or procedure, the patient may be sedated prior to the use of any needles. However, this can increase the problem as the patient does not have control or the opportunity to overcome the phobia.
Medication is generally avoided for treating phobias because psychotherapy options tend to be more effective and do not come with the side effects. When medications are used, it is typically for short-term use. Antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, or beta-blockers are sometimes prescribed for anxiety.
If you or a loved one are struggling with trypanophobia, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.
For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.
Relaxation techniques are recommended for coping with trypanophobia, except in people who experience vasovagal trypanophobia. This is because relaxation techniques can decrease heart rate and blood pressure.
A Word From Verywell
Trypanophobia can be a frightening, life-altering experience. It is also a serious medical issue. Without treatment, you delay necessary medical care.
Talk to your doctor about how to receive care without needles or with minimal use of needles. Depending on your medical needs, needle injections may not be necessary. If needles are necessary for your care, there are coping and treatment options to help you overcome trypanophobia and receive the care you need.
Overcoming Your Fears of Self-Injection
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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National Health Service. Treatment - Phobias.
By Ashley Olivine, Ph.D., MPH
Dr. Ashley Olivine is a health psychologist and public health professional with over a decade of experience serving clients in the clinical setting and private practice. She has also researched a wide variety psychology and public health topics such as the management of health risk factors, chronic illness, maternal and child wellbeing, and child development.
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