Of all the phobias blood phobia (also called haemophobia, hematophobia) is one of the most common and most interesting. It is often accompanied by Trypanophobia a fear of medical procedures involving hypodermic needles
People who had vaccinations in school may recall one or more of the children fainting. It is fainting that makes this phobia unique. In most phobias blood pressure rises. Although the phobic may feel faint due to hyperventilating they are very unlikely to faint because of the raised blood pressure. However with blood or needle phobia the blood pressure rapidly drops and this can cause fainting.
Often just the sight of blood or a needle can bring on high anxiety levels including a racing pulse, hyperventilating and an overwhelming urge to flee.
Like most anxiety disorders it tends to get worse if not treated and this inevitably causes major problems if the phobic has to go into hospital. There have been cases where people have refused life saving operations because their fear of the medical procedure is so great.
Most phobias are thought to be a combination of genetic predisposition and learned behaviours. Some psychologists have put forward any interesting theory for haemophobia. This states that it has evolutionary roots. It purports that on the battlefields of history, those who fainted from the sight of blood and carnage around them were the ones who survived because they appeared dead. Also if the sight of their own injury caused a drop in blood pressure then they would be less likely to bleed to death. Since these survivors get to pass on their genes to their descendants then it follows that there will be an ever increasing number of people with this condition.
Whether this theory is correct on not is hard to say but as many as 10% of the population are thought to have some level of this condition.
Whether the roots are genetic or not, many sufferers manage to overcome this condition and lose their fear of blood and needles. The most effective treatments are those that involve systematic desensitisation. This technique is common used in both Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Hypnotherapy and success rates are high.
CBT involves teaching the client to consciously challenge their thinking while hypnotherapy uses the focused and relaxed state of hypnosis to suggest a more realistic assessment of the actual danger to the subconscious. In the systematic desensitisation stage the client is introduced gradually to their fear. The fear hierarchy may start by looking at a photograph of a minor injury and may end with the client seeing real blood. (Committed therapists sometimes draw their own blood). The pace of progression up this hierarchy has to be done with agreement from the client and can be a slow process. The patience of both the client and the therapist are usually rewarded though with a complete recovery. Many clients go on to have injections or even become blood donors.
Although the condition may have existed for years, many clients manage to overcome their fear in just a few sessions.
Other techniques include tensing of the large muscles groups to raise the blood pressure and prevent fainting. Although this works for some, others find that the tensing of the muscles just makes them more anxious. If the systematic desensitisation is successful then the blood pressure should not drop at the sight of blood or needles and the client can relax in future situations.