Nosocomephobia is a marked, excessive fear of hospitals. People with a fear of hospitals experience intense anxiety and distress when they go to a hospital or even think about one. They may also go to great lengths to avoid clinical settings and medical care, which can put their health and safety at risk.
Learn more about nosocomephobia, including symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment, and more.
Nosocomephobia refers to an intense, irrational fear of hospitals. It’s a type of specific phobia, which is a kind of anxiety disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5). People with specific phobias experience significant symptoms of anxiety, distress, fear, and panic when they are exposed to a particular situation, animal, object, or activity.
The fear of hospitals may fall under the “blood-injection-injury” subtype of specific phobias. Other common medically related specific phobias include hemophobia (fear of blood) and trypanophobia (fear of injections).
When people with nosocomephobia are in a hospital or think about hospitals, they may experience the following symptoms:
- A sense of overwhelming dread
- Excessive sweating
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
- Trembling, shaking, and/or dizziness
Avoidance of the source of one’s fear is another common symptom of specific phobias. For example, people with nosocomephobia may go out of their way to avoid hospital settings due to their distress.
This symptom can have a negative impact on significant areas of a person’s life, including their physical health and well-being. Some people with a fear of hospitals may be so afraid to undergo necessary medical testing that they don’t get the treatment they need.
Are Phobias Common?
Specific phobias are common among children, teens, and adults alike. About 12.5% of U.S. adults will experience a specific phobia at some point in their life.
To diagnose you with nosocomephobia, your healthcare provider will use the DSM-5 criteria for specific phobias. They may ask you about your anxiety symptoms, how they affect your health and relationships, and if you’ve experienced them for six months or more.
Your healthcare provider will likely ask additional questions to rule out other related psychiatric conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Researchers have noted several factors that can increase the likelihood of developing a fear of hospitals, such as:
- Genetics: According to twin and family studies, around 30-40% of the risk for specific phobias is inherited.
- Trauma: Traumatic experiences sometimes play a role in the development of phobias. People with a difficult or traumatic medical history, such as those who have experienced significant illnesses during childhood, are more likely to experience nosocomephobia. Global pandemics and other medical crises, such as COVID-19, may also increase anxiety about hospitals.
- Comorbid mental health conditions: Specific phobias like nosocomephobia often appear alongside other mental health conditions, including major depressive disorder (MDD), other anxiety disorders, and mood disorders.
Many people with specific phobias don’t seek treatment, but highly effective approaches are available. If you think you may have nosocomephobia, discuss the following treatment options with your healthcare provider:
- Psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), is the most common treatment for specific phobias. A psychotherapist can help you address the underlying reasons for your fear of hospitals, change your negative patterns of thinking and behavior, take control of your fear response, and develop more effective problem-solving skills.
- Behavioral therapy: Exposure therapy focuses on gradually increasing your exposure to your feared situation in order to change your response. It is a mainstay of treatment of specific phobias. Studies suggest that certain other kinds of behavioral therapy—such as relaxation skills training, hypoventilation respiratory training (HRT), and symptom-associated tension (SAT) training—may work to help people with nosocomephobia relax their muscles and slow down their breathing during times of panic.
- Medication: Medications are usually not first-line treatments for specific phobias, but they can be helpful in certain situations. Certain drugs, such as antidepressants or mood stabilizers, may work to treat comorbid mental disorders. Meanwhile, medications like propranolol are sometimes prescribed alongside psychotherapy to potentially enhance its effectiveness.
To cope effectively with a fear of hospitals and other specific phobias, it’s important to learn how to relax as much as possible. To improve your overall mental health and calm your anxiety symptoms, you can:
- Complete mindfulness exercises
- Practice deep breathing techniques
- Exercise regularly
- Get enough sleep
- Avoid caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol
- Join a support group
There are also several different ways you can feel more comfortable in a medical environment, such as:
- Being honest with your healthcare provider about your distress
- Asking family and friends to provide support and companionship
- During longer stays, making your hospital room more comfortable by requesting dim lighting, temperature control, comfort foods, etc.
- Asking questions about your upcoming procedure(s)
- Writing down notes and questions ahead of time to bring up with your healthcare provider
Nosocomephobia refers to a type of specific phobia that involves a marked, excessive fear of hospitals. People with nosocomephobia experience symptoms of anxiety—such as excessive sweating, lightheadedness, rapid breathing, fast heart rate, and nausea—when they visit or think about hospitals. Some people with a fear of hospitals go to extremes to avoid medical settings, which can have a negative effect on their health.
Nosocomephobia is typically caused by a combination of genetics and environmental factors, such as having had previous traumatic experiences involving a medical setting. Usually, effective treatment for an intense fear of hospitals involves behavioral and other types of psychotherapy and/or behavioral therapy. Sometimes medications are used in the management of specific phobias.
A Word From Verywell
Some people are embarrassed to open up about experiencing a specific phobia like nosocomephobia, however, you are not alone. Talk to your healthcare provider about getting the help you need.
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