According to James G. Hamilton in the August 1995 edition of the Journal of Family Practice, needle phobia is a real condition, one from which ten percent or more of the population suffers. The fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published in 1994, includes and describes the phobia. Jerry Emanuelson, who is affected by this himself and maintains a web page about the condition, states about thirty million Americans may have this fear. Many are impacted so severely by their body’s response, they refuse all medical treatment and intervention. Some die rather than have a needle penetrate their skin.
Since my early childhood, I have had strong reactions to needles used in medical and dental procedures. These varied from vomiting while waiting in line at public school for an immunization to a full fainting episode when I was in eighth grade. When I became an adult, I repeatedly got dizzy in the dentist’s reception area knowing I would be receiving Novocaine for a procedure. I alarmed the clinic staff five years ago when I fainted during a draw for a metabolic blood panel.
Never having another medical or dental procedure was not an option as I grew older. Everything from having cavities filled to delivering a baby required the dentist or doctor to use needles on me. Within the last few years, I began to find strategies to cope with my needle phobia.
Keep Busy While Waiting
Sometimes the lab technicians or the dentist is so busy you must wait for several minutes before the procedure involving the needle may be done. I bring a crossword puzzle book or a knitting or crocheting project to my medical and dental appointments. Crossword puzzles keep your mind thinking about the answers rather than the pain of the needle. Crocheting or knitting exercises the hands and increases blood circulation to the fingers. If the phlebotomist is going to draw your blood, you may as well make sure it is flowing adequately.
Get the Right Person for the Job
If you are afraid of having your blood drawn or an IV put in, insist it be done by someone who is experienced at doing it right the first time. The last thing a needle phobic patient needs is an intern unsuccessfully trying two or three times to find a vein in first one arm and then the other.
When I was in the hospital for a broken ankle, no fewer than three lab technicians were sent in succession to my room one morning. My veins are very difficult to locate and lab technicians have told me they can feel the vein move around when they are attempting to penetrate it. This has not helped my needle phobia at all. The first two lab techs failed and left me with a bruise and a rising sense of fear. The third was a phlebotomist with more experience and within a few minutes, she had the vials filled with my blood sample.
Another time, I forced myself to donate blood at a bloodmobile. Why? Because I thought it was the right thing to do and I wanted to take control of my needle phobia. The experience left a bruise the size of a softball on my inside elbow. The bloodmobile technicians requested I go to the brick and mortar regional blood center to donate from then on. The blood center has the thin gauge needles required to successfully draw my blood.
Communicate Your Fear
The best method I found to avoid the worst phobic reactions to needles is to communicate your phobia to the nurse or phlebotomist before the procedure. I always ask the lab technician, “Is there an exam room available so I can lie down while this is done? I’m a fainter.” Most of the time there is and the lab technician is grateful she does not have to lift me from the floor where I passed out. She also reassures me my fear of needles is not uncommon and nothing of which to be embarrassed.
I attempt not to look at any of the medical equipment laid out for the phlebotomist or dentist. When the injection is being administered or the blood is being drawn, I turn my head away and shut my eyes or stare at the wall. This does not work when I am in the dentist chair. In that case, I shut my eyes, sometimes very tightly, until the Novocaine is given.
My dentist puts a swab with a topical numbing agent on it against the gum for several minutes before administering the Novocaine. My needle phobia does not allow me to fully dismiss the feeling of pressure the needle gives as she injects the Novocaine, but the numbing agent helps greatly.
Jerry Emanuelson’s website includes information about topical and ingested products the needle phobic person might be able to use prior to blood draws or inoculations.
Hopefully, you will have a phlebotomist drawing your blood who understands your need to talk during the procedure. If you can talk about your children, grandchildren, or anything you are impassioned about, you will be focused on what to say rather than whether the needle will hurt.
Again, this is not possible in the dentist chair. Perhaps you can attempt to remember the words to a favorite poem or Bible verse. Dr. Deborah Wiebe of Dallas’ Southwestern Medical Center psychiatric department recommends children can be instructed to count backward as fast as they can while receiving an immunization. This can be done in your mind. I pray for others during long dental procedures involving needles and drills.
Slow and Deep Breaths
Breathing in a controlled manner with slow and deep breaths will keep blood circulating to the brain and prevent dizziness. It also gives you another focal point during administration of the needle.
Do Not Tense
Tightening the muscles in the arm or, in the case of dental procedures, the jaw, will make the needle penetration hurt worse.
Do Not Sit or Stand Up Too Quickly
If you are prone to fainting like me (the medical term is having a vasovagal reflex), you must sit or lie down until you no longer feel weak, queasy, or dizzy. When you are comfortable and no longer feeling the effects needle phobia can produce in your body, sit or stand slowly. This can take fifteen minutes or more. The moment you feel dizzy or weak, sit back down until you are able to try again to stand.
Because this phobia seems to be partially a learned response, anything which will ease discomfort and anxiety should be used. Jerry Emanuelson’s page contains some other methods for helping the needle phobic patient. He started this page in 1997 and regularly updates it.
Recently I had to administer an at-home blood test to myself. I made sure I was half reclining on the couch before forcing myself to push the lancet against my finger. If I told you I was not feeling stressful prior to the lancet poke, I would be lying. Somehow I managed to get blood on the wrong section of the test strip. Then it began clotting and drying up before I could get all four of the test strip dots covered. I am in the process of ordering a new test kit and may ask my husband to administer it next time. Am I the first person to fail a blood test due to needle phobia?
http://www.utsouthwestern.edu/utsw/cda/dept353744/files/577683.html Ladson, LaKisha. “Distractions help children overcome needle nervousness.” University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Mar. 2010. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0689/is_n2_v41/ai_17276569/?tag=content;col1 Hamilton, James G. “Needle phobia: a neglected diagnosis.” BNET | News Articles, Magazine Back Issues & Reference Articles on All Topics. Journal of Family Practice, Aug. 1995.
http://www.needlephobia.com/ Emanuelson, Jerry . “The Needle Phobia Page.” The Needle Phobia Page. Futurescience, LLC, n.d.