What Does It Mean to Have a Fear of Doctors?

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It's normal to feel nervous about visiting your healthcare provider from time to time. But for people with iatrophobia, a type of anxiety disorder, their extreme fear of doctors is overwhelming and interferes with their ability to get regular health care.

Keep reading to learn more about the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of iatrophobia.

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What Is Fear of Doctors?

Iatrophobia is a fear of doctors and/or medical tests. It's a type of phobia known as a specific phobia, which is an acute and irrational fear of a particular object or situation.

Is It Iatrophobia or Normal Anxiety?

It's normal to feel uneasy about a doctor's appointment. And research has shown that it's common for people to put off or otherwise avoid medical care, even when they have symptoms or a known health problem. There are many reasons for this, including concerns about costs and long wait times.

But with iatrophobia, the feelings of fear and anxiety that come up are incredibly intense and disruptive. You may experience physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath. Even just thinking about going to the doctor can trigger intense dread.


People with iatrophobia may be so consumed by their fear and anxiety that they worry about visiting a healthcare provider even if they have no scheduled visits. Upon arriving at the medical office, they will likely anticipate the worst and may also experience:

  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Crying
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Refusal to enter the doctor's office


The exact cause of specific phobias such as iatrophobia is not well understood, although they may run in families. Iatrophobia can sometimes arise as the result of a traumatic past experience such as:

  • Frequent visits to healthcare providers as a child because of a health condition
  • Past poor treatment or other negative experience with a healthcare provider
  • Upsetting diagnosis received from a doctor, either about yourself or a loved one
  • Death of a loved one while they were getting medical care


Specific phobias like iatrophobia are diagnosed by a mental health professional using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). The criteria for a specific phobia diagnosis include:

  • Persistent and excessive fear or anxiety about a specific object or situation
  • Avoidance of the triggering object or situation or, if this is not possible, becoming distressed
  • Symptoms that last longer than six months and can't be explained by another mental health condition
  • Symptoms that affect your health and quality of life


Iatrophobia is often treated with psychotherapy, including:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This therapy helps you explore your thoughts and behaviors. The goal is to challenge and change thoughts and behaviors that are unhelpful and unhealthy.
  • Exposure therapy: This therapy gradually exposes you to the object or situation that triggers your fear. You may be taught relaxation techniques to help you manage the emotions that come up.

Another type of therapy to consider is hypnotherapy. During a session, a therapist will help guide you into a relaxed, trance-like state and will then help you change problematic thinking patterns.

Your healthcare provider may also suggest medication such as an antianxiety medication or an antidepressant.


Iatrophobia is a type of anxiety disorder marked by an intense fear of visiting the doctor. This phobia can cause you to avoid going to the doctor's at all costs, which can have a significant negative impact on your health. The exact cause of iatrophobia is unknown, although heritability, having learned the behavior, and having had past negative experiences with a doctor could play a role.

Treatment for phobias like iatrophobia include cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy. Hypnotherapy and medications such as anti-anxiety drugs may also be helpful.

A Word From Verywell

If iatrophobia is interfering with your daily life, it's important to seek out treatment. But, of course, the challenge is that seeing a healthcare provider is what triggers your fear and anxiety. If you're struggling to reach out to a healthcare provider, consider joining a support group. Hearing from other people with iatrophobia or other specific phobias can help validate your experiences and feelings while offering tips and techniques to help you get the care you need.

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Caroline Chirichella
Caroline Chirichella is a freelance writer with a focus on mental health, digestive health, and parenting.