Trypanophobia: How to Manage and Overcome a Fear of Needles

For most people, the prospect of having their blood drawn or getting a necessary vaccination is no big deal, but for others it sends shivers down their spine. For about a quarter of individuals, the fear is so severe they actually suffer from a condition known as trypanophobia. A fear of needles doesn’t signal any kind of weakness, and it certainly doesn’t mean a person is overly sensitive or dramatic. While there’s no single cause of trypanophobia, it can often stem from an early traumatic childhood experience, and it can affect anyone. Symptoms include feeling faint, shortness of breath, nausea, visible tremors, uncontrolled crying, and full-blown panic attacks. Those affected may also have trouble sleeping in the days or weeks leading up to an injection or blood draw, and may experience palpitations, nausea, or sweating at the time of the visit. For those who suffer from trypanophobia, there are things that can be done to mitigate the reaction. First, hydrate. The number one mistake people make is going to an appointment dehydrated. Even when told to fast for blood work, drinking water the night before the blood draw makes the veins more visible. If a patient comes in dehydrated, the chances of a successful blood draw are slim. Patients can also ask about butterfly needles, which are smaller in length and can be easier to place precisely. While not all labs offer the option of butterfly needles, it may be worth asking your phlebotomist to use one if you feel particularly uncomfortable about a blood draw or you know your veins are small or tend to roll. Finally, don’t look! Using a distraction such as listening to music, reading a book, or even making small talk with the phlebotomist can be enough of a distraction to reduce anxiety. The best thing to do is talk to your provider about your fears. Most will work with you in designing a way to get you through your encounter with needles with as little distress as possible.