Fear of Surgical Procedures

Most people would likely agree there is little enjoyment in undergoing surgical procedures, yet these invasive events are used to provide a greater quality of life and in some cases the best chance at longevity of life.  However, for some individuals there is a profound fear attached to surgery that can lead them to ignore certain symptoms of illness if there is a belief that the illness could lead to surgery. This fear is known as Tomophobia. This phobia can lead an individual to withhold vital information a primary health care provider would need to assist in correctly identifying certain health issues. In most cases tests can be used to find the source of the medical problem, but the anxiety associated with a surgical procedure can be debilitating.

What Causes Tomophobia?

When it comes to fear the cause is always something that while real to the one who fears may make little sense to others. It could be this fear is associated with watching medical programs on television and concluding that most patients who have surgery die. It could be that the fear stems from personal experience with a surgical procedure that didn’t go very well and had resulting complications.

An individual with this fear may also have vivid (and sometimes altered over time) memories of a loved one who underwent surgery and never came home again. While this fear may start with profound caution it often escalates into irrational fear and avoidance.

Symptoms of Tomophobia

An individual with this fear will often insist they are ‘fine’ even when friends and family members can see they are in distress. They will avoid doctors and will often self-medicate to relieve any pain or discomfort they may be experiencing.

Other symptoms include…

  • Panic attack
  • Air hunger
  • Trembling
  • Weeping
  • Screaming
  • Loss of control
  • Nausea
  • Fainting
  • Misdirected anger

The role of fear in this case (as it is in many others) is the belief that acting on the fear is actually a means of preserving their life. For instance if the individual truly has a fear of surgery then they may believe that undergoing the procedure may be equal to suicide.

How to Overcome Tomophobia

This fear may even have some roots in religious practice in that some religions feel that the loss of blood is the loss of life so through the cutting of skin an individual may be forfeiting a portion of their existence.

Speaking with a therapist and a health care provider can help calm concerns about the procedure and allow you a small measure of comfort because you will be made aware of the extent of the procedure and recovery time. Your doctor can help you understand why the procedure may be necessary and how long it should take to recover.

A therapist can help you get to the root of the phobia and allows you to determine if the fear was based on misinformation or perhaps tied to a separate fear altogether. In tandem these two health care providers can make a huge difference in the role of acceptance by those who suffer with Tomophobia.

The fear of surgical procedures is also referred to as:

  • Fear of surgery
  • Surgical procedure fear
  • Tomophobia
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