Needle Phobia: A Potentially Deadly Diagnosis

Empty waiting room The world of psychiatry is full of unusual phobias. There’s symmetrophobia, the fear of symmetry, xerophobia, the fear of dryness, and ideophobia, the fear of ideas. But these phobias are exceedingly rare, and in the psychiatric interest on strange phobias, more mundane—and more dangerous—phobias are easily forgotten. Needle phobia is one such fear. There is significant evidence that fear of needles sparks physical changes in the body that can result in cardiac episodes and other health problems when a patient is exposed to needles. But needles are a part of life and are often necessary for medical treatment. Needle phobia, then, can cause a person to avoid life-saving care and, if a needle is forced upon a phobic patient, the results could be disastrous.

Needle Phobia and Cardiac Episodes
Most people dislike needles, but a true needle phobia feels overwhelming and uncontrollable to patients. People who have needle phobia may experience an extremely elevated heart rate and blood pressure immediately before a needle puncture. When the puncture occurs, the heart rate may drop precipitously. This exposes them to significant danger of heart arrhythmias and other cardiac episodes. Dr. James Hamilton, a pioneer in the treatment and study of needle phobia, reports that at least 23 deaths have been caused by a needle puncture that led to a cardiac episode.

Medical Issues
Doctors, nurses, and other people tasked with administering vaccinations and drawing blood are not typically properly educated about needle phobia. They’re accustomed to patients who dislike needles and may reassure them with promises that the puncture won’t hurt or will only take a minute. But with a true needle phobic, these reassurances don’t work. The person isn’t afraid of pain or injury: he or she is afraid of the needle itself. This poses serious obstacles to medical treatment. As many as 10% of people have some degree of needle phobia, and a significant portion of these individuals report that they would rather die than receive a needle puncture. These people tend to avoid medical care because of their fear, allowing their illnesses much more time to worsen than illnesses of nonphobic people.

Although traumatic experiences with needles such as painful blood draws or blood transfusions can cause needle phobia, people can’t typically trace the origin of the phobia. Needle phobia seems to run in families, but this does not mean the fear is genetic. Children may learn it from watching their parents show fear of needles. Restraining children during vaccinations and blood draws is strongly correlated with the later development of needle phobia. Consequently, parents should strive to ensure that their children’s early experiences with needles are positive and that children are not restrained unless the needle puncture is needed immediately to save the child’s life.

Some people have good luck with hypnotherapy, but the most common treatment for needle phobia is counterconditioning. This process can take several years because the mere sight of a needle is sufficient to send many patients into a full-blown panic attack. Treatment providers typically start by asking the person to envision a needle, progress to showing the person a needle, and ultimately move toward getting the person to accept a needle puncture. For people who require needles for medical treatment, it may be necessary to administer general anesthesia to prevent life-threatening reactions. In less severe cases, anti-anxiety medications can lessen the symptoms of needle phobia.


  1. Hamilton, J. G. (n.d.). Needle phobia: A neglected diagnosis. Needle Phobia. Retrieved from
  2. Emanuelson, J. (n.d.). The Needle Phobia Page – fear of needles and needle procedures. The Needle Phobia Page – Fear of Needles and Needle Procedures. Retrieved from
  3. The phobia list. (n.d.). The Phobia List. Retrieved from

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  • Doc LC

    Doc LC

    July 19th, 2012 at 11:35 AM

    In my practice this kind of phobia is something that we encounter all the time. We have to put a lot of our patients to sleep for surgery when it cannot be performed under local anesthetic and there are some patients who almost can’t tolerate the thought of a needle getting anywhere near them. Some want us to bottle the anesthesia and sell to them but for others this poses such a fright to them that it can make doing surgery on them nearly impossible.

  • cheryl c

    cheryl c

    July 19th, 2012 at 3:39 PM

    Isn’t it weird how these phobias will just jump up out of nowhere sometimes when you least expect it?

    Is it like they just kind of start small and then become these full fledged fears?

    i guess I am lucky I have never had anything like this affect me.

  • Benny


    July 19th, 2012 at 7:17 PM

    Always hated needles as a kid but never thought it could be a full-blown phobia in people.with so much of needle usage in medical procedures this phobia can really come in the way of treatment. therefore it becomes necessary to tackle this issue and the methods mentioned here seem like a good idea.but I would like to see a more to-the-roots method to tackle this problem, by going back into how the fear developed. that will be much better from the patient’s point of view if I’m not wrong.

  • Jenn


    July 20th, 2012 at 4:19 AM

    That’s so freaky! I know that there are those who don’t like being stuck, but I had never given any thought at all that someone could have an actual diagnosable phobia about needles. Think about complicated this must make their lives. That would rule out many forms of restorative dental treatment, no checking blood for potentially harmful diseases, and just so many other things that could be limited due to this fear. I do hope that those who have this sort of phobia have some treatment options and that they are able to think clearly enough to seek this help out.

  • Carl


    July 26th, 2017 at 1:18 PM

    We don’t. We genuinely don’t.

  • carmen samms

    carmen samms

    July 20th, 2012 at 11:31 AM

    Unless you have known the pain of living with a phobia, then you have very little idea just how profoundly it can affect your life.
    You may not want to leave your house, or can’t be in a small contained space, or in a case like this, even refuse the most basic medical care due to that fear of needles that you know you have but cannot explain.
    There needs to be a greater overall awareness that this is a problem in much of the population and rather than ridiculing these fears as small and inconsequential (because believe me, to those who suffer from phobias, the fear is anything but small) we have to be kinder towards one naother and help them get past their fears rather than creating even more stress and anxiey in their lives.

  • Kevin


    July 21st, 2012 at 10:42 AM

    Well, they will get over that phobia pretty fast if it meant the difference between life and death!

  • Ellie


    September 11th, 2017 at 5:28 AM

    With all due respect, Kevin, I don’t think you understand what being needle-phobic is like. As a child, I have had full blown panic attacks at the very sight of a tray of syringes at the pediatrician’s office. The very smell of the disinfectant at the doctor’s office would make me hyperventilate. I have forced my way out of examination rooms, pushed nurses away from my physically and climbed up to places where I could not be reached just to avoid getting a vaccination or my blood drawn. Afterwards, I always know I overreacted, but that doesn’t make me able to stop while I’m having the overwhelming reaction to the phobia. I distinctly recall my mother telling me when I was little “do you want (insert disease name)? If you get it, it could kill you.” Or “you won’t get to go to Europe to see your grandfather before he passes away if you don’t get this shot” to both I always responded “I wish I was dead and not here!” and “so I don’t have to get it? I can stay home?” I felt like I would do anything in the world to get out of being stuck with a needle. Even risk my own death to avoid it. I used to hide from my mother before doctor’s appointments to avoid being dragged to the office, and once before an MRI, I had to be strapped forcefully to a chair just to get contrast injected into my arm.

    It really isn’t something you can just get over because you might die. The people, like me, who suffer from this would rather die than get the shot. They would rather die of some terrible disease than have the needle stuck into them.
    I am now sixteen years old, and I have been unable to get a vaccination “like a normal person” since infancy. Despite how my mother yells and says she’s ashamed of how I react. It’s a behavior that I can’t control.

  • Savannah


    July 21st, 2012 at 4:05 PM

    I hate to point this out to you but for some people they are so scared of needle sticks that this could actually cause them to have a heart attack and die!

    I know that this would be an extreme case but there are people who are so afraid that it would then be dangerous to actually do anything to them that would require this sort of act.

    Maybe they just have to be made comfortable in another way before getting a needle stick, maybe something like mitrous oxide would be beneficial for cases like this.

  • Frannie


    July 23rd, 2012 at 4:30 PM

    Has there ever been a study done to determine whether someone has to have a bad experience with something, a needle in thsi case, to have this sort of fear about it, or does it generally just come from nowhere? I mean, I guess someone could have a phobia about needles because they had a bad experience at the doctor, but some phobias are just so bizarre that it would seem weird that they would have ever even encountered this is their everday lives.

  • Nancy


    May 14th, 2013 at 6:44 AM

    When I was 5 I had to get a blood test before a surgery. The nurse couldn’t find the vein in one arm, so moved to the other. She then got the needle STUCK in my arm and the needle BURST! I remember it spouting out of the needle like a fountain. Very traumatic. I am needle phobic now – from blood tests to IV’s (the WORST is IVs’) and even flu shots! I will have them done, but my BP shoots up whenever I see a needle.

  • Rick Thomas

    Rick Thomas

    November 22nd, 2013 at 12:01 AM

    i am 48 years old and never ever take vaccinations but everyone i know is always sick!!! i am a severe Needle Phobic for the past 39 years never had a Needle in me for any reason and never will period! i was stabbed by 4 doctors in Wisconsin back in 1976 for a ear infection with a 2 inch needle in the back of my arm right to the bone these bastards Held me down. so i am a very angry person and will seriously hurt anyone who brings a Needle around me. its my turn now and they can all f– off save your children they think there god its your choice tell them NO!!!! THIS IS A DEPOPULATION way to make people sick to die off! ITS ALL POISON. Rick

  • Mario


    December 10th, 2013 at 11:35 PM

    First please excuse my poor english. I have needle phobia and it started when I was around 10 or 11 years old and kept growing afterwords to the point that I even fainted because of a diabetes blood test (the needle little used on the tip of the finger to extract a little blood drop). I’m getting married soon and MUST get a compulsory pre-marriage blood test and I CANNOT DO THAT. doctors over here always take it as a joke or they’ll try to ease the problem by saying nonsense things (like its not painful, it would take only seconds, try to think of something else… etc).

    So my (purely medical) question is, is it possible that they could put me to sleep then do the blood test? I did that to treat my wisdom teeth few years ago, but does it also work for blood tests? or the anesthesia will make my blood not in its best form to be examined? please say its ok.. you gonna help creating a family :)

  • hunter


    October 24th, 2014 at 11:26 PM

    I have a difficult time even reading this content due to my issues with needles… my blood pressure and heart rate is sky high right now. its not the pain… cant explain it but.. JUST SAY NO to needles (ha!)… seriously though… urrg.. no needles 4 me.

  • Daelin


    June 27th, 2016 at 12:52 PM

    It is very important to differentiate between needle phobia and severe discomfort with the idea of needles. I know too many people that let their discomfort with needles keep them in fear of doctors and of donating blood or having their blood tested. A strong-willed person can easily overcome nervousness. However, a true phobia is, by definition, a condition and can’t easily be resolved with brain-power. For those with a legitimate phobia, doctors have to know how to calm them and control the situation when needles are necessary.



    August 22nd, 2016 at 9:52 PM

    Kicked a nurse in the face when she came close to me with a needle. Need to get my servely impacted wisdom teeth out but refuse because of the IV. Also need to get a life or death blood test but 150% CANNOT do that. Sounds crazy but I would RATHER die than get that done. How can some people calmly drive to the doctors, walk through the doors, sit down, and show their bare arm waiting to be STABBED??????????? Am I missing something. If I ever become pregnant I cannot get the monthly blood tests either, or the epidural.

  • Shy


    March 7th, 2017 at 9:35 AM

    I don’t know what to do I think I have this I am also scared of diying I could cry because I’m so scared right know I’m really worried about having injections tomorrow

  • Sarah


    July 27th, 2017 at 6:08 PM

    I have lived with a needle & blood phobia all my life. It probably stemmed from all the times I was held down at the doctor’s office for vaccinations or blood draws…but by the time I was 20, things that even reminded me of doctors (a person walking towards me in a white winter coat made me cross the street and return home because I got so frightened) In the last 40 years , I have tried biofeedback, applied tension, 3 different talk therapists, and EMDR. They all helped but none were able to completely get rid of the phobia. I am able to go to the doctor, see a needle (be in the room when someone else has an injection or blood draw) but when I feel the needle in my arm…all bets are off. Not only can I faint (even laying down) but have a seizure. All of it caused by a vaso vagal response. It doesn’t help that I have small, rolling veins and techs always have a very hard time of it. The best I can hope for is someone who takes my fears seriously, and can offer me a sedative ahead of time. Lately, it has felt as if nurses and techs are so pressured to be able to do it quickly and so they can get their work done…that patient care goes out the window. Not helpful for needle phobes!

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