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Anxiety and Stress Disorders

Medical Anxiety or Phobia

10/10/2007

Question:

I am 25 years old and have never been to a Gynecologist. The main reason for this is my anxiety over the mere "idea" of the appointment. I don`t do well in medical type settings (i.e.: doctors` offices). In the past when I`ve had doctor appointments (of any kind) I first get nauseated and then proceed to get light headed like I`m going to pass out. There have been several appointments that I have passed out and/or vomitted during. I can`t "talk" about a Gynecologist appointment without putting my head between my knees so that I don`t pass out. I don`t know what to do. I`ve head family/friends explain the proceedure to me and have come close to passing out. I`ve read about these appointments on line and have had to put my head between my knees so that I don`t pass out. How can someone who can`t talk or read about this kind of an appointment get passed the anxiety enough to actually go on the appointment? I`ve even passed out in the waiting room before ever reaching the exam room. I`ve had this fear for as long as I can remember and have never found a way to over come it. I just feel helpless and don`t know what to do. Any suggestions?

Answer:

You have a very specific type of anxiety disorder called a "phobia."  Phobia simply means "fear," but is used by mental health professionals when discussing anxiety that occurs only in association with a very specific thing or event, like going to the doctor.  You are not the only one with this specific phobia, and along with things like heights, closed places and flying in planes, the "going to the doctor" phobia is well known by mental health professionals.

The good news is that treatment is very effective for most people with specific phobias.  The type of treatment most often used is called "exposure therapy," where a person is gradually introduced to their fearful object or place in a structured, controlled way with an expert therapist.  The person with the phobia gradually learns to control the emotional and physical responses to the fearful object or place until he or she is finally ready to confront the "real thing."

You can't do this with just "will power" alone.  Anxieties and phobias are very real problems, and I encourage you to start contacting mental health therapists in your community -- you are looking for one who is experienced with treating specific phobias.

Good luck!!

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Response by:

Nancy   Elder, MD Nancy Elder, MD
Associate Professor
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati