Nosocomephobia: The Fear of Hospitals Is Real

Don't let hospital phobia get in the way of proper medical care

Patient sitting on hospital bed
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Nosocomephobia, or the fear of hospitals, is a surprisingly common medical phobia. In fact, U.S. President Richard Nixon was said to have a fear of hospitals, reportedly refusing treatment for a blood clot as he was concerned he would "not get out of the hospital alive."

What Is Nosocomephobia?

Many people who have hospital phobia are also afraid of doctors (or suffer "white coat syndrome," during which blood pressure actually rises at the doctor's office).

However, nosocomephobia can also occur alone.

Some people are afraid of the building itself, others of what it represents. In this case, the choice of facilities can make a difference in your level of anxiety. Newer designs, for example, incorporate peaceful colors, spa-like facilities and such patient comforts as Internet access and private rooms with beds for loved ones. Surprisingly, many insurance providers will pay for either type of hospital, so check with your insurance provider.

Although a fear of hospitals is understandable — after all, hospitals are by definition where people go when they are very ill or injured — if left untreated, it can interfere with getting the care you need. This is especially true if you or someone you love experiences a fear of hospitals along with other medical phobias, including:

  • Iatrophobia, fear of doctors. Though doctors and dentists are the most common objects of fear, some people are afraid of nurses, lab techs and others in the medical field.

  • Mysophobia, fear of germs

  • Hemophobia, fear of blood
  • Thanatophobia, fear of death
  • Hypochondriasis, fear that existing physical symptoms may be the result of an undiagnosed disease
  • Nosophobia, fear of developing a specific disease such as cancer or diabetes
  • Claustophobia, fear of enclosed spaces. If you suffer from claustrophobia, you might dread CT scans, MRIs and other tests that require confinement.

Nosocomephobia or Normal Anxiety?

Since it's pretty normal to feel nervous before visiting a hospital, it can be difficult to tell whether your symptoms constitute a full-blown phobia. Only a qualified mental health professional can make this determination.

In general, however, someone with nosocomephobia may simply refuse to go to or enter a hospital, even in the case of major life threatening conditions or events. In addition, they'll realize the fear is irrational, but feel quite powerless to overcome it. Other signs that may signify a fear of hospitals include:

  • Obsessive worrying
  • A full-blown panic attack at the sight or thought of a hospital
  • Feeling nauseated
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Shallow and rapid breathing
  • Excessive sweating
  • Avoidance behavior or refusing to go to the hospital
  • Feelings of uncontrollable anxiety

Source:

American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

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