Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Anxiety & Panic Disorders Health Center

Font Size

Beyond 'White Coat Syndrome'

Fear of doctors and tests can hinder preventive health care.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

When Dorothea Lack was a little girl, she hid under a doctor's desk to avoid a vaccination. Undaunted, the doctor crawled under the desk and vaccinated her then and there. Lack said the incident provoked a fear of doctors that followed her into adulthood. "I didn't feel I could trust them," says Lack, PhD, now a psychologist who performs research on doctor-patient relations.

It's a rare soul who truly enjoys visiting the doctor. But for a significant minority of the population, fear and anxiety prevents them from getting vital care. The problem has grown in importance with medicine's increasing emphasis on preventive care. Screenings such as mammograms, colorectal exams, cholesterol checks, and digital rectal exams can save lives, but only if people are willing to submit to uncomfortable procedures well before symptoms have emerged.

Recommended Related to Anxiety Panic

Anxiety/Panic: Personal Stories

This video features a young woman who's dealing with social anxiety disorder. Video: Social Anxiety Disorder

Read the Anxiety/Panic: Personal Stories article > >

Fortunately, there are proven methods for relieving fear of doctors. But dealing with the problem first requires fessing up to it. Many people may hide their fear by saying they don't have time for a doctor's visit, says Jennifer Hay, PhD, a health psychology researcher at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. "The first step to putting [fear] in its place is acknowledging that it's there," says Hay, who also counsels cancer patients. "Some of the most powerful fears are the ones we don't acknowledge."

Fear of a White Coat

Even if setting foot into a doctor's office doesn't feel like walking into a lion's den, your body may be priming for a threat. As much as 20 percent of the population suffers from "white coat syndrome," in which blood pressure surges when measured in the doctor's office. The syndrome produces a challenge for physicians seeking an accurate blood pressure reading. But a fear response in a health care setting is perfectly normal because most people associate hospitals and clinics with sickness and injury, says Nathan Consedine, PhD, a health psychology researcher at Long Island University.

"Fear is a response selected in evolution to promote immediate avoidance of a very salient physical threat," Consedine says. "Doctor's offices and hospitals are places where bad things happen, so it's not surprising that people avoid them." A person with white coat syndrome may not feel anxious even as her body, "at a low level, is ready to run away."

1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Today on WebMD

young leukemia patient
Unhappy couple
embarrassed woman
Phobias frightened eyes
stressed boy in classroom
Distressed teen girl in dramatic lighting
man hiding with phone
chain watch