No one relishes getting blood work, but for 1 in 5 people, fear of needles is sufficient to cause them to avoid medical care. For 5-15% of the population, the phobia is so severe that they may suffer seizures, fainting spells, and even cardiac arrest in response to a needle.
If you're scared of needles, the sad reality is that you're probably already accustomed to insensitive medical providers. They might mock you, tell you to get over it, or insist that they deal with lots of people who have needle phobias. The truth is that few people with needle phobias actually seek medical care, and most phlebotomists have little training in the management of a true needle phobia. Whether your phobia is sufficient to send you into a full panic, or just produces mild fear of needles, you are not alone. You are not crazy. And you can get over your fear.
Understand what a phobia is (and isn't)
A true phobia is more than just a little discomfort with needles. People with needle phobias truly feel as if they are going to die at the sight of a needle. Intellectually, they know this is not true. Their bodies don't get the message, and react with an escalating cascade of panic. If this sounds like you or someone you know, understand that this is not a sign of weakness. Needle phobics cannot control the way their bodies react. The good news is that effective treatment can change things. Find a therapist who specializes in phobias and exposure therapy. In as little as just 5-10 sessions, you might find yourself slightly less terrorized.
Find a caring medical provider
Medical providers are often trained to control, rather than empathize with, patients. For someone with a needle phobia, this approach is never going to work. Keep looking for a doctor who understands your phobia, and a phlebotomist who partners with that doctor. Without a caring medical team, it's nearly impossible to move beyond a needle phobia.
Know how to control your response
Most people with a needle phobia have an exaggerated vasovagal response, i.e. a sudden drop in blood pressure and heart rate, which may lead to fainting. Most phobias cause blood pressure and heart rate to increase, but a needle phobia can actually lower both. This increases the likelihood of fainting, having a seizure, and even suffering dangerous cardiovascular effects. By controlling the vasovagal response, you can reduce your odds of fainting; for many needle phobics, it's fainting that's most frightening. Try the following:
- Drink plenty of water before a blood test, since hydrated veins are easier to find, and dehydration can cause your heart rate and blood pressure to become irregular.
- Only undergo needle procedures while lying down.
- If you feel yourself getting faint, forcefully tense the muscles in your legs. This slows circulation to your lower body, slightly elevating blood pressure and reducing your risk of fainting.
Most needle phobics aren't afraid of pain; they're afraid of losing control. To feel in control of the situation, try some of the following:
- Make sure the person drawing your blood knows of your phobia. Ask him or her to stop the moment you ask.
- Never allow a phlebotomist to restrain you or to conduct a procedure without first getting your permission.
- Request a private room and a closed door, so you don't feel like you're being watched.