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Trypanophobia: How to Manage and Overcome a Fear of Needles

Feb 10, 2022 By One Medical
Close up of woman's arm with bandage over it.

Clinical Editor: Melissa Desir-Eliacin

Imagine wrapping up a great appointment with your primary care provider, reaching for the door handle, and then realizing you have one more stop before you can head home: the lab.

For some people, the prospect of having their blood drawn or getting a necessary vaccination is no big deal. For others, the idea of a needle even hovering in the vicinity of their skin sends shivers down their spine. And for about a quarter of individuals, the fear is so severe, they actually suffer from a condition known as trypanophobia, aka, a serious aversion to needles.

“I always say 99% of the population have some sort of adverse reaction to getting their blood drawn, whether it's the idea of the needle itself, the level of discomfort they may feel during the procedure, or the sight of blood, just to name a few — all rational concerns,” says One Medical phlebotomist Melissa Desir-Eliacin. “However, when a patient comes in with trypanophobia, they have a few distinct signs that supersedes the run-of-the mill anxiety.”

What causes a fear of needles?

A fear of needles absolutely doesn’t indicate any sort of weakness and it certainly doesn’t mean a person is overly sensitive or dramatic. While there’s no single known cause of trypanophobia, it can often stem from an early traumatic childhood experience and it can affect anyone. There may also be a genetic component, meaning the condition can sometimes run in families.

What are the symptoms of trypanophobia?

According to Desir-Eliacin, some of the telltale signs of trypanophobia include:

  • Feeling faint and/or passing out at the sight or thought of needles
  • Shortness of breath, dry mouth, and nausea
  • Visible tremors
  • Crying
  • Full-blown panic attacks

Those affected by trypanophobia may also have trouble sleeping in the days or weeks leading up to an anticipated injection or blood draw and may experience palpitations, nausea, or sweating at the time of the visit.

“They try to put off the procedure before they enter the lab, they go to the restroom, and spend a considerable amount of time there,” Desir-Eliacin adds. “Whereas our patients with needle anxiety are able to come right into the lab and take a seat — they may look away and they may distract themselves, but the physical signs of distress are minimal.”

What can I do to make my lab visit more comfortable?

While the blood draw or injection process may never be pleasant for most people, there are some strategies that can at least make the time in the lab bearable.

1. Hydrate

“The number one mistake people make is coming in dehydrated,” says Desir-Eliacin. “Even when told to fast for blood work, drinking water the night before your blood draw really helps make the veins more visible. Sixty-four ounces of water per day is what’s recommended for good health — which is more than adequate for having your blood drawn.”

While there are certainly other accidental behaviors that can make a blood draw more unpleasant than it needs to be (holding your breath, for example, may cause your body to tense up, leading to a tougher experience), Desir-Eliacin says hydration really is the biggest secret to a smooth visit. “Our lab service specialists are happy to coach a patient through holding their breath, bending their arms, clenching their fist, with compassion and empathy,” she says. “However, if a patient comes in dehydrated, the ability to experience a successful blood draw is slim.”

2. Ask about butterfly needles

One simple strategy that lab service specialists can take to make a blood draw easier for all patients includes using 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.

“One Medical only uses butterfly needles!” Desir-Eliacin says. “It's less intimidating for our patients in comparison to straight needles. These are special needles that are used for venipuncture, i.e. to puncture superficial veins or arteries. One of the most notable benefits of this needle is its ability to help populations with superficial, sensitive, or smaller veins. A butterfly needle typically causes patients less pain than a standard needle because it has a thinner needle.”

3. Distract yourself

To make your visit as relaxing as possible, you might consider bringing a buddy to distract you, or putting on music or a podcast, or reading a book to zone out. No device? Make small talk and always tell your phlebotomist your preferences. “I check in with patients after explaining the procedure head to toe,” says One Medical phlebotomist Juan Jimenez. “I have worked in nursing homes, labs, emergency rooms, private practices, you name it, and patients have all sorts of ‘tricks’. Some like to sing, some scream, some swear, or even put blankets over their heads. Do whatever works for you!” Don’t be afraid to speak up about what makes you most comfortable and don’t forget to breathe. “Breathe in when the needle enters and then out,” says Phillips. “I also like to offer a countdown before the insertion.”

4. Don’t look!

This might seem obvious, but if you’re afraid of needles or prone to fainting, looking at a needle or a tube of blood isn’t helpful. For adults with needle phobias, it’s important to focus on a distraction as mentioned above and pay close attention to any symptoms you may be experiencing. If yoHowever, if you’re a parent, try not to force your children to avert their eyes. “For kids getting blood work, it’s important to let them see what I’m doing because it makes them less afraid of needles as they grow up,” says Jimenez. For adults with needle phobias, it’s important to focus on a distraction as mentioned above and pay close attention to any symptoms you may be experiencing. If you start sweating or feeling overheated or dizzy, tell your phlebotomist immediately. They will stop the procedure and recline you.

5. Talk to your provider

While a blood draw or injection may never be something you look forward to, you can work with your care team to find strategies that make you as comfortable as possible during these brief but necessary procedures. “All fears, anxieties experienced during a blood draw are valid,” Desir-Eliacin says. “Some people really dislike having their blood drawn, but working together and communicating your concerns with your phlebotomist is the best way to ensure you have a positive experience. Please remember to use your resources, feel free to utilize our one medical app to message in if you have any questions before your blood draw. We always have a team of virtual medical providers available to answer any questions you might have.”

Have more questions about trypanophobia? Our primary care team is here to help. At One Medical, we aim to provide seamless, quality care designed around you and your unique health needs. Book an appointment today to connect with a member of our clinical team in-person or through our 24/7 virtual care platform.

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