Hemophobia is an extreme and irrational fear of blood that often involves fainting, a unique symptom not part of most other phobias. Blood phobia frequently leads to avoidance behaviors that can have dire consequences on someone’s life. Even if your fear of blood is strong, there are treatments that can help you reclaim your life.
What Is Hemophobia?
Hemophobia is a specific phobia involving the severe fear of blood—either seeing one’s own blood, others’ blood, the anticipation of being exposed to blood, or images or stories involving blood.1,2 With a blood phobia, people react to any type of exposure to blood or even potential exposure to blood—including things like doctor’s appointments, dentist appointments, blood tests, surgery or other medical procedures, or helping someone who may be bleeding.
All phobias, including the fear of blood, involve:2
- An immediate, negative reaction to a feared situation or object
- A psychological and physical reaction that is out of proportion to the actual threat
- Knowledge that the fear is irrational but an inability to stop the reaction
- Any type of encounter with the feared object or situation, including real, imagined, or anticipated and can include merely seeing images or having thoughts about the source of fear
- A length of time of at least six months
- A significant disruption to people’s functioning in one or more areas of life (such as work, school, and/or home)
Hemophobia Vs. Trypanophobia Vs. Traumatophobia
The term hemophobia refers exclusively to a fear of blood, trypanophobia means fear of injection, and traumatophobia is the fear of injury. These fears are closely related and may occur together, although it is possible for someone to have only one, such as the fear of blood without an accompanying fear of injections and injury. These fears can be serious and negatively affect someone’s overall health, well-being, and quality of life when they prevent people from seeking medical care for illness or pain.
Many of the symptoms of hemophobia are also seen in all other phobias and include intense emotional, physical, and behavioral reactions to the source of the fear.
Symptoms of hemophobia include:2,3
- Immediate and intense sense of fear and anxiety
- Possible panic attacks
- The fear, anxiety, and/or panic are out of proportion to the actual degree of threat (seeing blood isn’t typically life-threatening, but people with hemophobia automatically react as if it were despite knowing that their lives aren’t in danger)
- Feelings of extreme disgust
- Increased stress hormones like cortisol
- Increased heart rate
- Jump in blood pressure
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest tightness
- Muscle tension
- Awareness that your reaction is too strong but an inability to stop it
- Avoidance that disrupts life
Fainting as Part of a Blood Phobia
Fears like hemophobia have a unique symptom not typically seen in other phobias: vasovagal syncope, or fainting.2,4,5,6 In hemophobia, fainting or near-fainting is a cardiovascular response marked by two opposite reactions. Initially, the fear and anxiety cause the heart rate and blood pressure to skyrocket, but then suddenly both heart rate and blood pressure drop dramatically, causing reduced blood flow to the brain and resulting in loss or near-loss of consciousness.
While more research is needed to explain why fainting is a common part of blood phobia, it is believed that the strong sense of disgust coupled with extreme anxiety contributes to the emotional fainting response.4
Hemophobia Signs & Symptoms in Children
Identifying and acknowledging the signs and symptoms of hemophobia in children is more challenging than doing so with adults because people often expect children to be more anxious and worried about blood. Parents and experts should understand the differences and separate typical from atypical fears.
Some of the common signs and symptoms of hemophobia in children include:
- Being immediately panicked by blood
- Taking a long time to feel comfortable again following the exposure
- Growing increasingly sensitive to blood and related items, even triggers that are only indirectly associated to blood
- Increased worry without being exposed to blood
- Defiance, impulsivity, and refusal to cooperate with parents’ directions
- Clinginess to parents and other adult caregivers
What Causes the Fear of Blood?
The exact cause of someone’s blood phobia is often hard to pinpoint. However, there are specific factors that have been linked to the development of hemophobia.2,3
Typically starting in early childhood, a fear of blood can be learned and often manifests after a strong, negative experience involving blood. It can be a direct, personal encounter or involve hearing reports of blood and related negative consequences. Sometimes, having an unexpected panic attack, such as those of panic disorder, that happens to occur near blood, can create a mental association between blood and panic symptoms that results in a fear of blood.2
Sometimes, individual personality traits or genetics can play a role in the development of hemophobia.2,3 Phobias are considered heritable, so if you have a first degree relative (a parent, sibling, or child) with a specific phobia, your chances of developing the same phobia are greater.
Also, people prone to experience anxiety or who are high in the personality trait neuroticism may be at increased risk of developing one or more phobias, including fear of blood.2
Impacts of Having a Blood Phobia
Phobias are highly unpleasant to live with and frequently cause avoidance behaviors. People living with phobias, including fear of blood, can go to great lengths to avoid any type of exposure to their fear. This avoidance can take a negative toll in any or all areas of someone’s life, interfering in relationships, career choice, leisure activities, and more.2,7 This can be especially dangerous in hemophobia because of what people feel they must eliminate from their lives.
A person with blood phobia will avoid things like:4,5
- Diagnostic procedures
- Medical treatments, including insulin shots for diabetes or B12 injections for pernicious anemia
- Caring for injured loved ones, including their own children
- Careers or jobs that may possibly involve the chance of seeing blood
- Having children (often because of a fear of the blood of childbirth)
- Seeking proper medical treatment if pregnant
The consequences of avoidance in hemophobia can be dire, leading to poor physical health as well as mental health challenges. The avoidant behaviors in blood phobia often contribute to social anxiety. Additionally, depression is common among people with hemophobia.5
How to Get Over a Fear of Blood
Living with hemophobia can be frustrating and downright difficult. Your life doesn’t have to continue to be limited by the fear of blood, though. You can take measures to cope with being scared of blood and take back your health and your life.
Here are seven tips for dealing with hemophobia:
1. Use Mindfulness, Meditation, Yoga, & Relaxation Strategies
In specific phobias, including hemophobia, the emotional center of the brain (the amygdala) is over-reactive.2 Engaging in yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation help reduce activity in the amygdala as well as deactivate the sympathetic nervous system (responsible for fight-flight-or-freeze and the arousal symptoms of hemophobia).3,8
2. Take Care of Yourself
Regular and consistent self-care nurtures your brain and body. Giving yourself proper nutrition, hydration, exercise, and sleep will help keep your whole system functioning well. This can help prevent fatigue and poor health, which contribute to emotional reactivity in the brain. Instead, your brain and body will be equipped to function well.9
3. Engage in Reality Testing
This is a strategy used in cognitive behavioral therapy that involves clarifying your thoughts and beliefs, questioning them to expand your perspective, and analyzing their degree of accuracy.7 This can help you shift your perspective regarding blood and modify your automatic reaction to it.
4. Enlist Support
Joining support groups for hemophobia can help you feel validated. These groups are also great ways to learn new coping skills for dealing with blood and your fear. You can also confide in trusted friends and loved ones so you have people around you who can help you be calm and deal positively with your fear.
5. Celebrate Your Successes
The act of celebrating, even in small ways such as treating yourself to something you enjoy, releases dopamine in the brain and helps it learn that it did something good. Celebrate any small win when it comes to handling the sight or thought of blood. Perhaps one time you are dealing with blood you almost faint but don’t completely pass out—celebrate that. Over time, you just may find that your reactions are becoming milder and milder.
6. Educate Yourself
Rather than feeling like you’re at the mercy of other people’s tales of and experiences with blood, begin to equip yourself with knowledge about blood. Learn as much as you can about what it is about blood that scares you. If, for example, you fear blood-borne illnesses, read up on what is and is not transmittable by blood and how to prevent such illnesses.
7. Be Prepared
Carry first-aid kits and cleaning supplies with you so if you bleed or must help someone who is bleeding, you can do so swiftly and efficiently.
What to Do If You Faint at the Sight of Blood
If you faint at the sight of blood, one of the first things you should do is understand your condition. Do you have a blood phobia, or do you have an intense vasovagal response? Just because you pass out does not mean that you have a hemophobia diagnosis.
Once you understand yourself and the situation, consider some of these tips to prevent and respond to blood:
- Avoid it when you can: If you know you faint at the sight of blood, do your best to stay away from blood and situations where you could be exposed. This includes staying away from scary movies and hospitals.
- Let people know: Since you cannot prevent all exposure to blood, let the people in your life know your reactions. This way, they can respond as needed.
- Take action: Explore ways to adjust your reactions to blood to gain more control over your response. Note: There is some great information included in the treatments section below.
- Face it head on: If your attempts at avoidance have not proved successful, face your enemy head on. Find ways to expose yourself more regularly and safely to blood. Doing so puts you in control of your fear.
How Is a Blood Phobia Diagnosed?
Only a medical or mental professional can diagnose a specific phobia. Blood phobias are some of the most common forms of specific phobias, so professionals should be comfortable distinguishing phobias from other vasovagal responses. If enough symptoms are present, the diagnosis will be considered.
Because blood phobia can negatively impact your health and overall well-being, it’s important to seek treatment. Thankfully, different treatment options for phobias are available, and with help, it’s possible to overcome hemophobia. Treatment options for blood phobia include specific types of therapy and, occasionally, medication.
Therapy for hemophobia helps people learn more about their fears and actively work to reduce them. Professional mental health therapy can help prevent immediate reactions of fear, anxiety, and/or panic upon exposure to blood. Finding the right therapist can help you overcome your fear of blood. Searching an online therapist directory is a great place to get started, since you can sort for someone with expertise in phobias and who takes your insurance.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Therapists using CBT for hemophobia will help you identify and examine your beliefs and negative thoughts about blood. This will help you develop insights into your thought patterns. Cognitive behavioral therapy is also about skills; your therapist will help you develop useful coping skills to reduce your anxiety about blood.
As you learn to think about blood differently, you’ll be able to interrupt your automatic fear reaction and respond more intentionally when you’re exposed to blood. When you work with a therapist using CBT for hemophobia, you’ll examine your negative thoughts and beliefs about bees to increase insights into your thought patterns.
Exposure therapy involves working with a supportive mental health professional to gradually face your fear in incremental steps. A therapist might start by mentioning blood in a neutral context and work up to images of different intensity and eventually actual blood.
You’ll also explore your thoughts and feelings about blood to help you develop a healthier relationship with and response to it. Exposure therapy is one of the most effective approaches to reducing phobias like hemophobia.
Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy
Virtual reality exposure therapy is similar to exposure therapy, but it uses technology that allows you to experience exposure to blood in a simulated format instead of in the real world.
Developed in the 1980s by Swedish psychologist Lars-Göran Öst, applied tension is a common treatment intervention to reduce fainting in blood, injection, and injury phobias. In hemophobia, it involves exposure to blood while systematically tensing and relaxing muscles in the torso, legs, and arms in order to increase blood pressure and cerebral blood flow and prevent fainting.
Applied tension for hemophobia is considered by some to be more effective than tension-only approaches (in which people tense and relax muscles but aren’t exposed to blood) and exposure-only treatment. In one study comparing these treatment methods, 90 percent of participants using applied tension improved, 80 percent of those just using tension improved, and only 40 percent of those receiving stand-alone exposure therapy improved.11
Applied tension has also been successfully combined with CBT. In a case study combining the two treatments, the participant received nine sessions of CBT and applied therapy and at the end experienced reduce anxiety and panic around medical procedures, decreased syncope, and an increased ability to have medical treatments, something he had previously avoided due to his fear of blood.12
Adding specific breathing techniques to applied tension and/or exposure therapy can be helpful in treating the immediate symptoms of fear of blood, including vasovagal syncope.4 Helping people breathe slowly and shallowly to counter the rapid, too-deep breathing of hyperventilation can reduce symptoms of anxiety, panic, and fainting.
Additionally, a breathing technique known as respiratory relief, paired with gradual exposure therapy, can be helpful in treating people’s fear of fainting upon seeing blood. Here, people are taught to exhale fully and hold the exhale by closing their mouths and pinching their nostrils. Then, they are shown an image of blood as they are instructed to begin inhaling. The purposeful and controlled inhale helps prevent symptoms of panic upon seeing blood. This can be effective, but it does carry the risk of increasing, rather than decreasing, panic so it should only be used with the guidance of a mental health professional.
Anxiety medication is sometimes used in the treatment of hemophobia. It isn’t used as stand-alone treatment but instead is combined with therapy.3,8 The purpose is to reduce symptoms of anxiety so that therapy can be more effective.
Medications used in treating hemophobia include:
- Anti-anxiety medications like benzodiazepines or other tranquilizers
- Beta blockers, medication for high blood pressure that block adrenaline to reduce physiological anxiety symptoms
- Antidepressants such as SSRIs or tricyclic antidepressants
Final Thoughts on Hemophobia
The fear of blood can be incredibly disruptive to life and even dangerous to your health when it prevents you from seeking medical care for other illnesses. It can be difficult to overcome, but it is absolutely possible to do so. With help and support, you can cope with and treat your fear of blood and reclaim your wellbeing and quality of life.