Trypanophobia - Overcoming the Fear of Needles

Fear of Needles

Asian boy receiving injection in hospital
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Trypanophobia, or fear of needles, affects an estimated 10% of Americans. Yet it was only recognized as a specific phobia by the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) in the 1994 4th Edition. The disorder is generally referred to simply as “needle phobia” by the general population, but is specific to medical needles.

Symptoms of Trypanophobia

If you have trypanophobia, you may dread receiving medical care, particularly injections.

When you are required to undergo a medical procedure, you are likely to experience high blood pressure and an elevated heart rate in the hours and days leading up to your procedure. However, at the time of the event, your blood pressure may rapidly drop. You may even faint.

Dangers of Trypanophobia

Unlike most phobias, which generally cause a fast pulse and feeling of panic, trypanophobia frequently causes blood pressure and heart rate to drop.

Another danger of needle phobia is that it can cause sufferers to avoid visiting the doctor or dentist. Although the actual phobia is of needles, it can lead to a more generalized fear of medical and dental healthcare providers. In extreme cases, the sufferer may refuse to receive even routine checkups.

Causes of Trypanophobia

Scientists are still unsure precisely what causes needle phobia. It seems to be inherited, as an estimated 80% of those who have the condition have a close relative that suffers from the same phobia.

However, it is possible that the fear is learned rather than biologically inherited.

Some evolutionary psychologists believe that the fear may be rooted in an ancient survival technique. Puncture wounds could be deadly, particularly in the days before modern antibiotics. It is possible that a fear of puncturing the skin was an evolutionary adaptation.

Treating Trypanophobia

Cognitive-behavioral therapy has been highly effective in treating trypanophobia. Through techniques such as systematic desensitization, the client can gradually learn to tolerate needles. Some experts have also found success using hypnotherapy.

In addition, new routes of medication distribution are being developed. For example, a nasal spray form of the flu vaccine called FluMist has been approved for use in most healthy people. Researchers are working on possible needle-free ways of testing diabetics’ blood sugar and performing other needed medical tests.

Trypanophobia is a serious condition that must be treated, as it could eventually lead you to miss out on needed medical care. If you think that you may suffer from this condition, you are urged to consult a mental health professional right away.


Hamilton, James G. “Needle phobia: a neglected diagnosis.” Journal of Family Practice. August 1995. June 28, 2008.

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