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Beyond 'White Coat Syndrome'

Fear of doctors and tests can hinder preventive health care.

Fear of Doctors: How to Cope continued...

2. Confront anxieties and deal with them rationally. This could be a useful way to overcome fear of screening tests, Consedine says. For example, the digital rectal exam can be important for detecting prostate cancer, and the colorectal exam is important for early detection of colorectal cancers. Studies show that many men avoid these tests because of a perceived threat to their sexuality, Consedine says.

Other screenings such as the mammogram may be uncomfortable, but they are brief and can be life-saving. Surveys show that people anticipate screenings to be more painful than they actually are, Consedine says. And rationally, those brief moments of discomfort are far outweighed by the chance of having your life saved by early detection of a disease.

3. Ask for sedatives or anesthetics. These can be helpful for people with needle phobia.

4. Ask for a preview of what pain you might feel and how long it will last. Leventhal has found that patients are more relaxed if the doctor or nurse prepares them with a reasonable description of what they are going to feel -- for example, by comparing a needle stick to a mosquito bite -- as well as clear indication of how long the feeling will last. If you're worried about pain from a procedure, you may want to ask for a preview of what you are about to feel, Leventhal suggests.

5. Seek a new doctor. If you're afraid of your doctor, you might want to seek out a new one who evokes a more calming reaction, Lack advises.

6. Try cognitive behavioral therapy. By reframing a patient's state of mind and teaching coping techniques, this form of therapy has been shown to relieve anxiety in as little as two or three sessions, Lack says.

7. Take someone with you. Once you've recognized your fear, talk about it to someone who is unthreatening, Hay says. Many anxious people rely on a spouse, relative, or close friend to get them to an appointment and even sit with them in the examining room. Your greatest resource could prove to be someone who cares deeply enough about your health to help you overcome your fears.

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Reviewed on July 31, 2008

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