Needle phobia

Hello, I am a neurotypical GP. I have changed some of the details below to protect a patient's identity.

I saw a 21 year old today with autism. We had a long chat together with her mum about her fear of needles. She had a life threatening condition a while back which required her to have some blood tests and a cannula put into her arm.

She found that she was unable not to look at the vein etc. when they were going to try to take blood and could not stand the thought of anyone taking her blood.

She does not currently need any blood tests, but her mum is worried what might happen if she ever does need one in the future. 

On the previous occasion when she did need the blood tests / a cannula, she had to be sectioned in order for this to be done.

She does not wish to try a local anaesthetic or counselling.

I have said I would be happy to work with her, for as long as it takes, to help her overcome her fear of needles. I have said she would never have to do anything she does not want to do, and that she can decide what we do when we have an appointment. I thought maybe I could gradually introduce the equipment at the first appointment and take it slowly from there.

Does anyone have any suggestions about how best to approach this?

Many thanks!

  • Thanks for all the helpful replies!

  • I have a fear of anything medical including needles. Been that way for as long as i can remember. I can only speak from my own experience but i would say the less waiting around the better. Sitting in a waiting room surrounded by people where there always seems to be a baby screaming and a phone constantly ringing, makes me hugely anxious in itself. So if there was a way that she could be seen quickly that might help a bit.

    Information can be useful for some people, as it can give them the chance to focus on the details of something rather than the sensations. You would need to check with her though. She could do some of this herself if she wanted, such as reading about it online or looking at images. It's horrible but at least she can close it anytime she wants and it can't get her. (Someone else ought to source the material first though and check it)

    If you could think about other sensory input too that could be helpful. Personally i hate the smell of medical environments as it is associated with bad things for me. So maybe she could bring a tissue with a scent she likes on for example, if that was relevant for her.

    Being squeamish about such things is to do with pain but also other sensations too. A GP offered to put some numbing stuff on my arm but i actually hate the feeling of numbness and tingling, so it would just draw my attention to that area anyway. It's hard to explain but sometimes an unpleasant sensation or one that is new or unexpected can be just as bad or worse as something a bit painful (for me). That said i also have a pitifully low pain threshold. Other items could be bothering her as well as the needles, such as the feel of gloves or cotton wool (i can't even bear the sound it makes!) So you could check with her about little things which could be adding to her anxiety levels too.

    Hope some of that was useful. Good luck with helping her, it's really nice to hear of a GP that understanding.

  • Many thanks everyone for all your very helpful comments

  • I hate needles too and i have Algophobia (the fear of pain) so i know how she feels.