What Is Hemophobia?

The Irrational Fear of Blood

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Hemophobia is a psychological disorder characterized by an extreme fear of blood. Those who have this phobia may become distressed when they see or think about blood. This article will discuss hemophobia, including how it is diagnosed, its causes, and how it is treated.

What to Know About Hemophobia - Illustration by Danie Drankwalter

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Definition

Hemophobia, or blood phobia, causes an irrational fear of seeing blood. This persistent fear causes those who experience blood phobia to have intense feelings of distress upon seeing blood or thinking about blood.

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) classifies blood phobia as a specific phobia. A specific phobia is an anxiety disorder that presents as a fear of a certain object or situation.

The DSM-5 characterizes the fear of a specific phobia to be out of proportion to the actual danger posed by a specific situation or object.

Specific phobias are divided into five categories, and blood phobia falls within the category of blood-injection-injury type. Other examples of phobias within this category are those that are related to seeing or experiencing an injury, or even something as simple as getting your blood drawn.

Symptoms

People living with a blood phobia may only experience symptoms if they see blood.

But for some people, even the thought of blood can cause them to feel panicked or anxious. This is referred to as anticipatory anxiety.

Hemophobia may cause a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Palpitations
  • Increase in heart rate
  • Feeling short of breath
  • Shaking
  • Trembling
  • Unsettling feeling in the stomach

Those with a fear of blood may be highly distressed and go out of their way to avoid situations that involve blood.

Diagnosis

Hemophobia is formally diagnosed using seven criteria outlined in the DSM-5. They are:

  1. The fear is persistent and is considered unreasonable or excessive. The fear may occur in the presence of blood or in anticipation of seeing blood.
  2. Seeing blood nearly always results in an anxious response. This may include a panic attack. In children, the response may take the form of clinging, tantrums, crying or freezing.
  3. The person with the blood phobia knows that their fear of blood is excessive (though in children this may not be the case).
  4. The person either avoids blood or experiences intense feelings of anxiety and is distressed in situations that involve blood.
  5. The fear of blood significantly disrupts the person's daily life and may impact their work, schooling, relationships, or social activities. They may have significant distress about having their phobia of blood.
  6. The fear of blood typically persists for at least six months.
  7. The feelings of anxiety or behaviors associated with the blood phobia can't be explained through other disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder, social phobia, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Not everyone with a blood phobia is formally diagnosed.

Many people with blood phobia are already aware they have a phobia and may choose to live their life without a diagnosis. These people may also go to great lengths to avoid blood or situations that involve blood.

This approach is not advised, as avoidance of blood may make a blood phobia worse.

Causes

The cause of specific phobias like hemophobia are often complex and may be due to a variety of reasons like past experiences, learned history, and biological factors.

Past Experiences

Some people may develop a phobia of blood after a past traumatic experience. A car accident, for instance, can equate negative emotions with the sight of blood and may lead to an irrational fear of blood.

Learned History

A learned history can be one factor that contributes to the development of a blood phobia. There are three forms of learned history, which are:

  • A direct learning experience refers to a specific experience that involves blood. This experience might have been traumatic.
  • An observational learning experience refers to learning a fear by observing other people show fear in a situation that involves blood. This may involve a child seeing their parent be afraid of blood, then developing their own fear of blood.
  • Informational learning refers to a fear that might come from reading or hearing about a situation that could be considered dangerous.

Often, learned history is not the sole reason for developing a phobia. Other factors like genetics and overall mental health can play a role in phobia development.

Biological Factors

There may be a genetic component to developing a specific phobia, as it is believed that some people are born with a predisposition to feelings of anxiety compared to others.

If a person with hemophobia sees blood, they may experience a number of biological changes in the body. These changes can include:

  • Release of cortisol (a primary stress hormone)
  • Release of insulin (hormone produced in the pancreas that turns glucose to energy)
  • Release of growth hormones
  • Changes to the activity in the brain
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure

Treatment

Many phobias can be treated or potentially cured. Specific phobias like hemophobia can be treated through desensitization or self-exposure therapy.

This involves a person with a phobia of blood gradually being exposed to blood or situations that involve being around blood. These exposure techniques can be performed with the help of a professional. Other treatment options include psychotherapy, counseling, and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Typically, medication is not used to treat phobias. In some cases, it may be prescribed to help with anxiety. Medications that may be prescribed in this context include beta-blockers, tranquilizers, and antidepressants.

Coping

Having a blood phobia can be distressing, but there are techniques that can help you cope with this fear.

Distraction Techniques

Distraction techniques involve focusing on something else or performing an activity to distract from a situation that may involve blood, or the thought of blood.

These distraction techniques include:

  • Reading
  • Listening to music
  • Playing games
  • Talking to a friend
  • Texting

Imagery

Visualizing a situation that evokes feelings of calm may be beneficial for those with hemophobia.

Creating a calm image in the brain and thinking about how it felt to be in that situation can reduce feelings of anxiety.

Challenge Negative Thoughts

Negative thoughts associated with a specific phobia can bring on symptoms of anxiety. By challenging these negative thoughts, those with hemophobia may better cope with their fears.

For instance, if you have hemophobia and think you can't cope with having your blood drawn, you may challenge this thought by reminding yourself that a blood test is a normal procedure that many other people experience on a regular basis without issue.

Relaxation Techniques

When a person with hemophobia thinks about blood or is in a situation involving blood, they may notice their body tenses up and their heart rate increases.

Using relaxation techniques like muscle relaxation, meditation, and deep breathing may help reduce feelings of anxiety.

Summary

The exact cause of hemophobia may be hard to pinpoint, but there are steps a person can take to reduce their fear of blood. Gradual exposure to blood or situations that involve blood may help a person desensitize their irrational fear.

Those with a blood phobia can also benefit from mindfulness exercises that may improve mental health overall, such as exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, staying hydrated, and attending therapy.

A Word From Verywell

Having a phobia of any kind can be distressing and interfere with daily living. Hemophobia can be challenging to deal with, but there is help available. Most phobias, including blood phobia, can be cured. Managing your fear of blood with coping techniques like deep breathing or challenging negative thoughts may help. If you are concerned about your mental health, or are worried you may have a phobia, speak with a healthcare professional.

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5 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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  2. American Psychological Association. Specific phobia.

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  4. Perelman School of Medicine. Specific phobias.

  5. NHS. Blood, injury and needle phobias and procedural anxiety. Updated June 2018.