Omg I hate needles so much!
February 11, 2010 5:02 PM   Subscribe

I have a needle phobia and a doctor's appointment on Monday, during which I have a feeling blood will be drawn. I feel terribly anxious whenever I think about it and don't particularly want to feel anxious the entire weekend. How do I minimize my anxiety?

If I asked would the doctor administer nitrous oxide during the procedure? When I had my wisdom teeth out and had to be poked a lot that completely cured me. If I knew I could have nitrous oxide I think I would be a lot less anxious about this.

I don't have a fear of pain and I probably won't faint. Once the needle is in me I will be okay but until that point on Monday afternoon I will be terribly anxious. During the procedure I think I can disassociate myself, but I am going to be anxious until then.

I have a feeling they are going to want to draw blood when I tell them a few symptoms of mine but I'm not sure. I seriously haven't had a physical in like 7 years and I am 19.

Any suggestions to reduce my anxiety would help. Nitrous oxide would help the most. Thanks!
posted by tweedle to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Call tomorrow and speak to your doctor or a nurse in the office. They'll be able to tell you whether they're likely to want blood and what they can do to ease your discomfort.
posted by decathecting at 5:04 PM on February 11, 2010

This may be too simplistic, but you can look away and ask the person drawing blood to talk to you while they're doing it, so you have no idea when to expect it.
posted by sunshinesky at 5:15 PM on February 11, 2010

Sorry, I've just realised that this isn't really a solution to the problem... *backing away now*
posted by sunshinesky at 5:16 PM on February 11, 2010

explain your anxiety to your doctor and request a limited run of xanax to help.
posted by nadawi at 5:21 PM on February 11, 2010

I just had my blood drawn yesterday. I've been having it done a lot lately due to some medical issues they're trying to sort out. I'm weird, and I think needles are fantastic and I love watching the art of the physician finding a vessel and procuring the blood.

I used to think I had a fear of needles just like everyone else. When I went in for a mandatory shot in elementary school, I looked away for a second to read something on a wall and the next thing I knew, "You're good to go!"

Is your fear because you don't like seeing blood? Is it the needle itself? The pain people think is associated with it? If you've ever stubbed your toe, hit your funny bone, jammed your finger, or best of all - had a papercut, these things are far worse than the simple pinch of a needle to have blood drawn.

They usually have a hard time finding a vein that works the first few goes, and that got a little agitating, but it's really nothing to be scared of. Much like spiders, I think that there is just so much hype around it that people scare themselves over nothing, and it literally takes a few seconds.
posted by june made him a gemini at 5:22 PM on February 11, 2010

Sorry, that first sentence in the last paragraph is in regards to me personally. For some reason my blood is elusive.
posted by june made him a gemini at 5:25 PM on February 11, 2010

Much like spiders, I think that there is just so much hype around it that people scare themselves over nothing, and it literally takes a few seconds.

No. There are many of us who harbor this fear. I shield my eyes whenever I see a needle inserted in an arm in a television show or movie. The fear is real. My only recommendation is to let the doctor know of your fear. In my case I do turn my head, hold my breath and let the procedure progress. My doctor often laughs and says that he's never seen someone hold their breath as long as I have when drawing a couple vials of blood.
posted by ericb at 5:33 PM on February 11, 2010

For anxiety leading up to something like this I just rely on my good old friend denial. I'd just decide that I'm going to refuse to give blood and that's that. They can't make you after all. Then when I start to get worked up I just remind myself they aren't going to take blood, they'll diagnose me some other way, then I make a concerted effort to think about something else. The secret is I'm totally going to change my mind at the appointment and blood will be taken, but good denial means forgetting that secret until the actual time comes.

I don't actually have a problem with blood draws but do get very anxious over having my blood pressure taken (weird huh?). It's not something that can be reasoned with so I just assume that I'm going to refuse and not have it done and the denial actually does work. And yeah, I do end up getting it checked regularly and get through it at the time but not worrying about it before hand gives better readings and makes the whole thing easier.

"I'll worry about that when the time comes" may not be as healthy as reasoning your way out of the problem or learning how to truly deal with the issue, but I'm good with that.
posted by shelleycat at 5:35 PM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

I highly doubt they'll give you nitrous. Sorry.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:35 PM on February 11, 2010

I have the same extreme anxiety around syringes, tweedle, to the point where I can barely watch shows like ER, and I disturb other people in doctors' surgeries when they see a healthy-looking grown man crying into his hands. Be assured that it's not just you---and you shouldn't feel that it's hype or scaring yourself over nothing. It's real anxiety, and that's enough.

I was given advice ages ago which was excellent (for me at least) for dealing with upcoming-needle anxiety. Whenever it occurs to you that you're going to the doctor's for a needle, call to mind the most relaxing, pleasant, easy experience you can think of. Then, keep it there. For me; sleeping in on a cold Saturday morning with the blankets up. You've said you can dissociate yourself from the actual needle---this is just a matter of dissociating from the anxiety about the needle. Every time you think about syringes? Those lovely warm sheets. Pokey jabby needle? It's Saturday, and I don't have to go to work.

And after the needle, I take myself home, pour a big Scotch with a beer chaser, and tell myself how fuckin' good I am.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:37 PM on February 11, 2010 [5 favorites]

Fellow phobic here. What worked best for me was a course of hypnotherapy. This won't help you with the immediate appointment but is something you may want to consider for the long term. It's a must if you can't get past your fears and you need surgery.

Do call the doctor's office and see what they can do for you. For some procedures that have involved a lot of needles, I get a valium in advance. It can be a great help if whatever they're doing allows for it. Just be sure you have someone with you to help you get home (e.g., drive you if need be). This isn't a bad idea anyway if you might faint or have a panic attack of some sort.

Also, my experience is that nurses are happy to hear in advance that you're phobic. Explain that you don't know what you may do and they'll be sure to treat you right. I always tell them that I'm pretty sure I won't panic and hit them (that was what the therapy was for in my case) but I may faint, and they're always happy to arrange for me to be flat on my back while they do the draw even if it's inconvenient. They say it's better than having me faint and hurt myself.

Good luck with the appointment, and I hope they don't need to draw any blood at all!
posted by immlass at 5:43 PM on February 11, 2010

After having mono a couple of years ago and getting my blood drawn with regularity (it gives me shivers just typing that!), the best piece of advice I received was to drink water before the blood would be taken. It plumps up the vein and you won't really feel it/the nurse won't have problems finding a vein. That, combined with looking away, made for a more pleasant blood-drawing experience.

Also, many nurses are used to dealing with this kind of anxiety, so feel free to talk to them about it. I still become chatty cathy when I have to get blood drawn!
posted by trampoliningisfun at 6:51 PM on February 11, 2010

I'm also afraid of needles and have a couple of medical-related phobias, but I've learnt that most nurses and many doctors (specially pediatric) are really good at injections. I swear there have been times I didn't feel anything at all. This has helped my anxiety a lot, and I'm sure someday I won't be afraid of needles at all.

Call your doctor's office and explain. Ask for the gentlest, best nurse s/he has. Also, you could ask for an EMLA prescription (patch or cream), which is used to prevent needle pain. You mention you are not afraid of the pain, but maybe it could help.
posted by clearlydemon at 7:35 PM on February 11, 2010

I have the exact same problem. This might not work for you (everyone is different) but this really has helped me, and I was skeptical at first.

When I go in for an appointment like this I am very up front with them that I'm phobic and I usually ask that if they have a nurse/phlebotomist who has an especially calming presence if they'd let him/her work with me. They are usually more than happy to work with you since it isn't in their interest to have you freaking out.

If possible I like to be sitting in a chair so that my back feels like it is solidly against something and so my feet can be on the ground. Also, I know it sounds ridiculous but I always bring an extra sweatshirt/coat that I can ball up and hug with my free arm. It lets me channel my tension into squeezing the ball of fabric so that I can try to let the arm they are going to stick relax. Having my back against something and my feet on the ground also helps keep me from squirming. Lying down is the worst possible thing for me. I also ask the nurse to talk throughout the whole process as in, "Can you tell me exactly what is going on at every second?" I never look -- or I'd pass out -- but hearing someone say, "Okay, I'm just drawing the first tube of blood, it's almost full" lets me self-talk to myself, "It's almost full, you can do this, it's almost over." etc, which I find really helpful. I just keep reminding myself that it WILL be over soon.

I also made piece with this. I'm afraid of needles. It is irrational and silly, I know this, I just can't help it. I almost always tear up and get shaky when I have to have injections or have blood drawn and being upfront with everyone in the room about it (sorry folks, I might cry) does in fact help me relax. By owning my fear I don't feel like it controls me as much.

I know this might seem overly self-helpy (man, did I really write "owning my fear?" sheesh) but hey, it works for me!
posted by blue_bicycle at 7:38 PM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yay trypanophobia! I've got it, it's real. Basically, I second everything that Fiasco de Gama said upthread.

My particular coping mechanism during the event is to bite down (HARD) on my knuckles, stare at the tip of my nose and focus on breathing.





...and as regularly as I can make it happen.

I had a realization the last time I was at the dentist, though: I am in control. I can walk out at any time. I can say no. They cannot make me let them poke me. I can ask questions, I can seek understanding, but ultimately the buck stops with me. When they poke me it is because I am allowing it.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 8:04 PM on February 11, 2010

I used to draw blood, lots, and have encountered people with similar phobias.

Xanax is prescription... here in Canada, it seems like it's harder to get prescriptions for abusable drugs. I've recommended taking a Gravol a half hour before the appointment, and asking for Emla (topical analgesic; it takes about 30 minutes to kick in, but you won't feel the needle enter so looking away works) - of course, calling ahead to tell them that you have a concern and to ask whether they have Emla on hand.

Also, be reasonably hydrated (but don't drink, like, 5 gallons of water beforehand); in my experience, it decreases perceived pain some (experiment: asking people how much coffee and how much water they had, and when, and if they'd been drinking the night before, before they showed up - and it helps finding a good vein and know where it is positively). This also has to do with the fainting part; most people faint because of a blood pressure thing rather than a fear/pain thing. Of course, there are people who faint at the slightest suggestion of their own blood.

I don't know if you're uncomfortable with blood draws because of previous experience(s), but there is are worlds of differences between a bad phlebotomist and someone who's competent. Good phlebotomists are surprisingly rare. Calling ahead of time can also alert the medical team as to your concerns and might draw someone competent/good to work with you.

It might be worthwhile to explicity tell them that you are female; women's inner-elbow veins can be hard to find/get-to. Sometimes there are "special" people who are just better at doing women with small/deep veins.

.. and I hope that you aren't going in for an arterial draw.

Good luck, and remember that "just relax" will make this over without complications so much faster.
posted by porpoise at 8:14 PM on February 11, 2010

I have the same phobia and have gotten myself so worked up that I will faint. It does not help that my veins are really small and hard to poke with a needle, so it usually takes multiple tries (I just shuddered typing that). If I have to have blood drawn, I drink a lot of water in advance, to plump up the veins. I ask for the best phlebotimist they have and request a tiny needle. A lot of the time, medical staff who draw blood from children are good at being gentle and distracting their patients. My Dr. let's me relax in a dark room by myself for a few minutes before and after blood draws, which helps a lot.
posted by pluckysparrow at 9:47 PM on February 11, 2010

Fellow needle phobic here (I had a couple of rounds of surgery when I was very young which is what set it off), but I have learned to cope with it because of having to get allergy shots for the last few years.

I am great at denial, so I usually can stave the anxiety off until I actually get to the doctor. Try to do some fun and distracting things this weekend, so you are not brooding about what is to come. (Also, for all you know they may actually not need to do any blood work to diagnose you.)

You have gotten lots of good advice here, and I nth what everyone says about telling them up front that you are phobic, and asking for their best person for the blood draw, if one should be necessary. The advice about making sure you are hydrated is a good one, and also about asking for a small needle. I always ask for a butterfly needle, specifically. Part of my coping mechanism is making sure that I don't watch any part of what they are doing while they are doing it, and they know they need to talk to me about something to distract me while anything to do with needles is going on.

One thing to note, since I get anxious about the blood draw, that raises my blood pressure. My doctor took a while to really register that fact and that it was best to retest my blood pressure if it seemed high, and to retest it some time *after* the blood draw (and after I had a chance to calm down.) I now always warn any new doctor about that blood pressure issue ahead of time.
posted by gudrun at 10:24 PM on February 11, 2010

I sympathize. Despite having seen Pulp Fiction 10+ times, I've never watched the scene in which John Travolta shoots up. Even hearing other people talk about having blood drawn is enough to make me faint.

And I have a chronic condition that requires me to have blood drawn monthly.

Seconding everyone who has recommended drinking plenty of water beforehand. Also, I find that water (especially very cold water) immediately afterwards helps me recover much more quickly; the staff will be happy to bring you some.

If you're experiencing anxiety before going in, let yourself cry it out if you need to. Last time I had blood drawn, I was crying uncontrollably during all of the paperwork/administrative stuff beforehand, and my embarrassment sort of put me in a feedback loop of anxiety. I wish I had gone with my gut and taken a few minutes in the bathroom to compose myself.

If the staff member is poking around your arm too long (my veins are very hard to find and the longer they try to find them, the more I start freaking out), tell them you don't mind if they use the back of your hand. It will make your hand ache afterwards, but it will get things over with much more quickly.
posted by transporter accident amy at 12:41 AM on February 12, 2010

Well, my personal experiences are that I *do* faint with needles, and since you say you don't think you will, this may be of little value. Anyway, the one thing I have finally learned after many years is to be proactive. For example, I always tell the person drawing blood that I am "a fainter" and ask if I can be in a secluded place (where I won't try to look away from my own blood draw to see someone else's) and lying down. They pretty much are always able to do this, as many people are fainters. In my case, they often will also offer juice for afterwards. If they have an extra staff person onhand, that person can talk to me about anything else while it is going on, that helps me too. Also, moving your feet and breathing tend to be helpful.

I also do not fear the pain of needles, but definitely do faint, so again I apologize if these suggestions don't help.

Nthing what everyone says about asking for the best person to do it, if possible. Often someone with little experience will offer that up when I tell them I'm a fainter and go get someone else.
posted by freezer cake at 8:08 AM on February 12, 2010

Exposure therapy usually works wonders with phobias. I think you should give it a shot with this one. It may not "cure" you but it might lessen your anxiety enough to make it just a hassle, instead of something paralyzing. Of course, a needle is pointy, so I don't want to encourage you to stick yourself with it, but you might be able to get a syringe and successively expose yourself to it, from needle in wrapper, then out of wrapper, then cap off, then lying beside your arm on a table. The key is to get your fear to show its ugly face, then sit with it, and feel it subside -- you need to teach your body that fear won't kill you.

The alternative -- juice, Xanax, just relax, and so on -- doesn't fundamentally work because you aren't dealing with the fear itself. Just the symptoms.

Maybe talk to a therapist? You don't want to let the fear fester because you might avoid having doctor appointments and allowing your health to suffer.
posted by teedee2000 at 10:28 AM on February 12, 2010

I recently had two surgeries which entailed several needles, IVs, drawing of blood etc... I found using some of the concepts of mindfulness to be very helpful. For example, instead of worrying about when my next needle was, I asked myself if I was ok right now. The answer was always of course "yes." On the day and at the very moment it was about to occur, I'd just breathe and accept what was happening, not fight it. Once it was over I realized how quickly it went and how absurd it would have been to worry all week long.

I realize that this is a big YMMV.
posted by jmmpangaea at 10:36 AM on February 12, 2010

Regarding nitrous, I don't think they're likely to have it in the first place. It's typically the purview of dentists, not doctors.
posted by etoile at 9:26 PM on February 12, 2010

Ye gods. I have such a bad fear of needles that just reading this question is giving me the heebeejeebees. URGH. At least you're not getting a daily injection in the belly due to a sprained ankle! (Damn German doctors.)

It's funny that blue_bicycle says lying down doesn't work, because for me it's absolutely necessary. The two times I fainted during a blood draw I was sitting up - I was anxious, I felt the sudden drop in blood pressure, I got anxious about the sudden drop, and it goes on. At least when I'm lying down any drop isn't severe.

I like to have someone around to talk to/squeeze a hand, but I've had a couple of doctors and nurses who were really sneaky about that. Find the one time that I am alone and get it out of me! No fair.

It might help to be distracted - just have a long convo about some other random thing. ABSOLUTELY tell the nurses about the fear - I've had one that was really rude about it ("you're a grown woman! Stop being a crybaby!") but the rest are usually helpful and tell me funny stories about people my age or older that holler in the room.

Look away! I usually close my eyes and mentally project calming healing blue energy to the spot, telling myself to relax. And I scream in advance (well, more like a short yelp) to get the nervous energy out. It does help.

They don't really give you anything prior to it, but it is a short procedure, though it does sting! I feel for you. In fact I am possibly feeling too much, since I'm shaking now. And I've been poked by needles at least once a year on average, even for stupid things like immigration requirements. Yargh!
posted by divabat at 8:50 PM on February 14, 2010

I'm fine with intramusclar injections, but have a terrible reaction from any kind of IV (in, or out).

I've explained this to a number of medical professionals. Since I'm a big guy, a number of this find it amusing in a "look at the big baby kind of way", which is not helpful. These days I bring my wife with me, who's more... forceful... about getting people to take it seriously *before* I go into full body spasms or fall over or turn funny colours or any of the other entertaining, involuntary, and rather embarrassing reactions.

Lying down helps. Having support helps. Having a nurse or doctor who isn't an asshat helps. When I needed an IV line put in for broken arm the nitrous definitely helped.
posted by rodgerd at 1:29 AM on February 27, 2010

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