In this blog we will discuss the symptom, causes and treatments for Hemophobia.
Hemophobia is the fear of blood. It is a specific phobia which comes under blood-injection injury (BII) phobia in the DSM-V.
In Hemophobia, one suffers from extreme anxiety when they see blood. This extreme anxiety is also caused when one thinks about blood. In worse scenarios, the anxiety can lead to full-blown panic attacks, which might require hospitalization.
Normally, no one likes to see blood. People do feel disgusted or nauseous if they see it. However, in Hemophobia the very site/thought of blood can induce very high levels of anxiety, which becomes uncontrollable.
Other than this, a sufferer takes all the possible measures one can, to avoid any contact with or a site of blood. This avoidance can be for example, not being able to get a blood test done. Someone suffering from Hemophobia is very likely to develop OCD in the future as a result of these repeated acts of avoidance turning to compulsions.
According to the DSM-V, long prevailing anxiety should affect ones social and occupational life. For example, a person suffering from Hemophobia might not be able to accompany his family members for their medical tests or procedures, due to the fear that they might see blood. They might not even be able to help them with first aid in case of an injury.
This can offend or upset their friends or families due to which the sufferer might lose his social relations with them.
In terms of occupational dysfunction, one might not be able to get his medical tests done as a part of their school programmes or job requirement. Someone suffering from Hemophobia will avoid going out in crowds where there’s a higher risk of getting an injury or seeing one. They will also avoid taking part in physical activities, like running.
This self-isolation can lead to depression or the development of other phobias.
One can develop social phobia or agoraphobia due to the sufferers avoiding other people and or social situations.
Nonetheless, like all other specific phobia, Hemophobia can prove to be quite debilitating for a person in terms of his physical and mental health, if not treated on time.
Hemophobia is the abnormal, irrational fear of blood. One feels traumatized or extremely anxious at the site of blood or even just the thought of it.
Symptoms of Hemophobia
People with Hemophobia, like in all other specific phobias experience intense anxiety on the site of blood, own or someone else’s. They’re unable to control this anxiety and thus, end up feeling more anxious. This anxiousness, in extreme cases can give rise to full-blown panic attacks.
Sufferer goes into flight or fight mode because of an adrenaline rush. In this state, the body’s physiological responses help one make decisions when in fear causing situations. They either decide to escape the situation (flight)-faint or suffer from panic attacks or stay and combat their fear (fight)-by taking counterproductive actions.
In the case of Hemophobia or any other type of specific phobia, the physiological symptoms that are produced when exposed to blood (including extreme anxiety) cause the person to escape or avoid that situation. Sufferers don’t have the courage to fight with their fear because of the unpleasant, terrifying experience the body goes through.
According to the DSM-V, one must experience anxiety lasting for at least 6 months and 3-5 symptoms out of the ones listed below:
- Extreme anxiety when see blood (your own/someone else’s)
- Extreme anxiety when thinking about blood
- Anticipatory anxiety
- Inability to control anxiety
- Repeated acts to avoid blood
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Muscle tension
- Increased heartbeat
- Feelings of dizziness
- Hot/cold flashes when in a flight or fight mode (A hot flash refers to the temporary heating up of the body when in a state of fear. And a cold flash means when the body suddenly starts to shiver or cool down, when encountered by a fear stimulus).
- Butterflies in the stomach
Causes of Hemophobia
Hemophobia, like all other specific phobias has no known cause. These types of phobias can be a result of a number of factors such as biological (genetics) and or environmental (past experiences or social learning).
Genetics refers to the genes and neurotransmitters in our body. Someone with a family history of a phobia/mental disorder has a higher chance of having the same or different disorder in the future. This is because the genes of the parents are transferred to their children, thus any alteration in the genes of ones’ parents is inherited by the child.
This genetic tendency to develop a mental disorder/specific phobia can also be referred to as a Diathesis-stress relationship. According to this, one with a genetic predisposition will not develop symptoms of Hemophobia until and unless there is some trigger event, instigating anxiety or fear of blood.
Hemophobia is related to other specific phobias like, the fear of medical needles (Trypanophobia) , fear of death, Iatrophobia (fear of doctors) and Mysophobia (fear of germs).
An environmental trigger event can be a past traumatic childhood experience with blood. One might have seen a murder happening in front of their eyes (of one of the family members or someone else) and got terrified since then on seeing blood, because they will associate blood with the event.
Experiencing an accident where the sufferer lost a lot of blood or seeing an accident/it’s injuries in front of their eyes can induce fear and lead to Hemophobia.
Other than this, one can have Hemophobia because of over protective parents or family. Because these children were brought up with such care and protection that they might suffer from extreme anxiety when they see blood (their own or someone else’s) due to some injury.
The development of Hemophobia can also be a learned response. Children will imitate the behavior of their parents who are afraid of seeing blood, either due to Hemophobia or otherwise.
Phobias mostly start to develop during childhood. by the age of 7-16 years one is very likely to develop fears or phobias related to health or physical injury, in the presence of a correct stimulus (genetics and or environmental).
Treatment of Hemophobia
Hemophobia, like all other specific phobias has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it. Like all the other specific phobias, Hemophobia is treated by a number of different therapies including, Exposure Therapy, Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT) and or medications that lower downs the anxiety or other physical symptoms.
• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It is one of the most frequently used treatment for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders. Hemophobia is defined as the irrational fear of blood. Thus, the therapist helps the patient in replacing these irrational thoughts with more rational ones.
The patients are helped out in analyzing and justifying the way they feel about being exposed to blood. Therapists assist them in uncovering the reasons behind their fear and later they provide them with alternate, pleasant thoughts.
The patient is told to maintain a thought diary (with ABCD column) which provides them a replacement for every irrational thought they have, when thinking about a particular situation. The ABCD stands for:
i. A (antecedents) a situation or triggering event.
ii. B (belief) the thought that comes to one’s mind when in that triggering situation.
iii. C (consequences) the symptoms/feelings caused by that event/thought
iv. D (dispute) alternate, rational thoughts provided by the therapist in an attempt to dispute/challenge those irrational beliefs.
This last section of the thought diary is what really plays a role in helping the person feel good/less anxious.
• Exposure Therapy
It is one of the most frequently used ways of treating patients with Hemophobia (or any other kind of specific phobia). In this therapy, the patient is exposed to the source of his fear over a certain span of time. To begin with the therapy, the therapist exposes the patient to the least triggering stimuli, a picture of blood or an injury for example.
As the therapy progresses and the patient is able to control his anxious feelings, imagery can be used to take the treatment a step further. In this part of the treatment the patient is asked to visualize/imagine a situation in which he sees blood. During this process of imagery, one actually feels being in that particular situation or place, experiencing various senses.
Once the person successfully, without feeling anxious clears this step of the therapy, he is then exposed to real blood, for example asked to help a person who is injured and has blood coming out of his wound.
While the patient is being exposed to different intensities of stimuli during the various stages of therapy, the therapist simultaneously teaches them coping exercises. These include, breathing techniques or muscle relaxation methods to lower their anxiety, when in an actual fear/anxiety causing situation. This teaches them how to remain calm when exposed to the fear stimuli.
Before actually starting the exposure therapy, the therapist needs to figure out the intensity of the patients fear, as to deduce whether they will be able to undergo this treatment, without any physical or psychological harm caused to them during the exposure processes.
However, these steps desensitize one to their fear of blood, by exposing them to that stimuli repeatedly, until they learn to undergo the situation without anxiety/panic attacks.
• Applied Tension Technique
By using this method, one is prevented from fainting (a symptom of Hemophobia).
Fainting is a very common symptom, mostly specific to phobias related to blood, injection or injury.
The patient is instructed to tense his muscles of the arms, torso and legs for 10 to 15 seconds. They are told to hold the tension till their head starts feeling warm. The patient then relaxes his body for the next 20-30 seconds and repeats the whole technique again, 5 times.
This increases one’s blood pressure, which prevents fainting.
• Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR is a meditation therapy, is used to manage stress or anxiety. It is an 8-week program which includes group sessions. Mindfulness meditation and Hatha yoga are practiced in these sessions. Lectures and group discussions are also done to talk about mental health and increase interactivity.
In mindfulness meditation the person is told to, for example focus on the sensations felt while breathing or the rhythm of the chest rising and falling during the process. This distracts the person’s attention from something stressful to something which is neutral and soothing.
For quick and effective treatment, patients are also given a set of home works, for example 45 minutes of yoga and meditation sessions for 6 days a week and to record their results/feelings in a book or diary for 15 minutes a day.
They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Hemophobia, instead they are one of the most common ways of relaxation used by many people. Yoga tends to stimulate the meditative state of one’s mind while the person is in a particular yoga posture. Through yoga/meditation the mind is diverted towards something more productive and calm, allowing the person to escape the negative, distress causing thoughts.
Out of a number of yoga types, one can benefit from any yoga type/pose they like. Hatha yoga is one of the different types of yoga. The breathing techniques or the imagery one creates while in a yoga posture are the real factors that makes the person feel less anxious and diverts their mind, away from the thoughts of blood.
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Hemophobia. Drugs are very quick in effectiveness, as they start showing progress in the patients’ health at least 2 weeks after the medicine is taken.
This type of biological treatment is usually more effective if the cause of the phobia is only genetic. However, these drugs/medicines are not to be taken without a doctor’s prescription or consultation.
Two types of drugs are used in the treatment of this phobia:
i. Anti-anxiety Drugs
Medicines like Valium are anti-anxiety drugs. They are most commonly used with patients who experience panic attacks and also lowers their anxiety by binding to receptor cells of the brain that cause these unpleasant symptoms.
ii. Antidepressant Drugs
These drugs, as the name suggest don’t only treat depression but are also very effective in treating phobias. Medicines like Lexapro reduce the anxious feelings of a person and makes him feel calm. They need to be taken on a daily basis but not without a doctor’s advice.
Whether the cause of Hemophobia, or any other type of specific phobia is genetics, environmental or both, the best and the most effective way of treating them is by using a combination of both biological treatments (drugs) with cognitive treatment (for example CBT/exposure therapy).
Titles to read
- Fear of Blood Hemophobia Survival Guide For Hemophobic People to Understand Hemophobia Causes and Hemophobia Symptoms.: Hemphobia Facts, The Hemophobia … Phobias, Hemophobic Reaction Book 1)
by Jenny Husk
- Overcoming Anxiety: Reassuring Ways to Break Free from Stress and Worry and Lead a Calmer Life
by Gill Hasson
- Rhythms of Renewal: Trading Stress and Anxiety for a Life of Peace and Purpose
by Rebekah Lyons
- The Mindful Way through Anxiety: Break Free from Chronic Worry and Reclaim Your Life
by Susan M. Orsillo, Lizabeth Roemer, et al.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) how is Hemophobia caused?
This phobia of blood is caused by either a genetic predisposition, such as a family history or an environmental factor-past traumatic experience.
Q2) Do I have Hemophobia?
To know if someone has Hemophobia, one needs to experience extreme anxiety, panic attacks, fainting, increased heartbeat, nausea, muscle tension etc. the anxiety one experiences should last for at least 6 months.
Q3) How can I overcome my fear of blood?
One needs to consult a therapist in order to get treated. The therapies one can get in order to get treated are CBT, exposure therapy and or medicinal drugs.
Q4) How common is Hemophobia?
Around 3-4% of the population experiences BII phobia. It usually begins at around the age of 10-13 years.