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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

What is doctor anxiety?

Originally published on 12/10/12

Doctor Anxiety: it can make your asthma worse

I used to deny it, but I don't any more:  I have doctor anxiety, alson known as white coat fever.  It's funny if you think of it, considering I work with doctors, and many are my friends.  Yet when I'm the patient I get nervous. 

It's also funny considering I've had asthma my entire life, and have dealt with many doctors over the years, and I see my doctor on a regular basis. Yes, the anxiety hits. 

For me though it's not so much that I fear the doctor, it's more that I hate talking about myself.  I don't like admitting I can't do things.  I don't like admitting if I had trouble with my asthma.  I don't like it when doctor's touch me.  I don't want the doctor to find something else I'll have to take meds for. 

I did some research lately, and found that this whole anxiety feeling in a doctor's office is completely normal.  In fact, chances are pretty good that all you folks reading this now have some degree of doctor anxiety. 

Doctor anxiety is the diagnosis.  It's a collection of symptoms predominantly prevalent among people of all ages, races, creeds and sexes.  It occurs when one is exposed to the presence of medical professionals or the anticipation thereof.

The term White Coat Fever is actually a misnomer, stemming from 19th century studies of English patients who blamed their uncomfortable feelings when the doctor was in the house on the doctor.  This was a time when all ailments were called a fever (i.e., hay fever).  It's accompanied by a strong desire to avoid the presumed cause -- the doctor.  

Fear is a normal and good response in the face of dangerous situations.  For example, if someone has a loaded gun aimed at your head, fear is expected.  If your breath suddenly goes away, as in an asthma attack, fear is expected. Yet your not supposed to fear a doctor, someone who's intention is to help you.

Yet we do.  And it's normal.  It's kind of like people aren't supposed to be allergic to things.  People aren't supposed to have to have asthma triggers.  Yet allergic asthmatics have both these things, and it's normal -- I mean, you're still normal.  You're not a freak, I mean. 

Some of the signs are (according to Muscle weakness,Heart palpitations, Tension, Fatigue, Nausea, Chest pain, Shortness of Breath (yes, it can make your asthma worse), and headaches. 

It can also cause Doctor induced high blood pressure, Shaking or shivering, Sweaty palms, Saying stupid things, Biting fingernails, and Trouble sleeping the night before.

Any of these sound familiar?  For me it's high blood pressure, shaking, and saying stupid things, or at least things I perceive as stupid.  

So while doctor anxiety in and of itself is okay, it's still a significant disorder.  It is if your doctor is treating you for high blood pressure that's only high when you're around HIM.  It is when you don't visit him when you know you should. 
So this brings me to how to conquer doctor anxiety.  This advice is based on my own personal experience, and can also be found at

1.  Action cures fear:  There are a couple puns you can use here:  fight fire with fire, or eat the hair off the dog that bites you.  Either way, the best way to conquer fear is to take action.  If you fear your doctor, see your doctor.

2.  Befriend your doctor:  See your doctor more often, like once every three to six months.  Start the visit with friendly banter, such as, "So, how things going with you?  How are the kids?  This way you'll be visiting with a bud, and not just a doctor.

3.  Educate yourself:  The more you know the less you'll worry about little things.  The more you know about asthma, allergies, anxiety, or whatever ails you, the less you'll worry about it.

4.  Be a gallant asthmatic:  By this I mean do what is expected of you to be a good asthmatic.  Visit your doctor regularly, pick up your prescriptions, use your prescriptions as prescribed, know your asthma triggers and symptoms, follow your asthma action plan.

5.  Know and Avoid your asthma triggers:  If mowing the grass triggers your asthma, don't mow the grass.  If spending time in your Aunt Maggie's house triggers your asthma, have Aunt Maggie visit your house instead.  Avoid your triggers, but not your doctor.

6.  Stay in good shape:  Simply put, exercise regularly and eat right -- at least most of the time.  This will help keep you in good health, will improve your feeling of self worth, and decrease your anxiety.

7  Make needed changes:  Quit smoking. Cut down on drinking. Exercise.  Eat right. Avoid your triggers.

8.  Know doctors are only humans:  That's right!  They are just people like you doing a job they love to do.  Their job is to help you, not make you worse.  Plus your doctor certainly knows about doctor anxiety, and is going to work hard to make you comfortable.

9.  Find doctor that's right for you:  As I wrote here, there are many different types of asthma doctors.  Find one that fits your personality.  Find a doctor you like. Find one you feel comfortable with.  If you're an easy going guy, you may prefer a laid back doctor.  If you need a kick in the butt to do something, you may prefer a more blunt and aggressive doctor.

10.  Be a team player with your doctor:  You and your doctor should form a partnership, as I wrote here.  You are a team with the goal of keeping YOU healthy, or helping you get healthier.  So know your doctor is supposed to work with you, not against you.

The general idea here is education, compliance, and action cures doctor anxiety.  A healthy and compliant you will have no need to fear your doctor.

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