Dialysis Needle Fear - Easing the Sting

Almost no-one likes needles. But for some, needle phobia is much more than a minor fear. It's a terror that can scare you away from health or dental care. And if you need dialysis, you may face needles often. Learn how needle fear works—and what you can do about it.

How You Know You Have Needle Fear


Having needle fear does not mean that you are weak or childish. It's an involuntary response – a vasovagal reflex. The reflex can occur if you:

Needle fear is listed in the DSM-IV book of mental illness, as a "specific phobia." It falls under Blood-Injection-Injury Type.

Here's how it works:

  1. First, due to fear, your heart beats faster and your blood pressure goes up.
  2. Then, to be sure your brain gets enough blood, your heart slows down, and your blood pressure falls. Your body puts out stress hormones. Your heart rhythms may change.
  3. You may become pale, sweaty, nauseous, light headed, dizzy, and may pass out.

Experts believe needle fear is part learned and part genetic. 1 Many needle phobic people have had a needle trauma in their past. About 80% have a family member with the same fear. 1 You may have both.

Group of People in a Crowd

At least one in ten people are said to have needle fear.1 The real number may be higher: one study found that 27% of college students did not give blood due to needle fear.2 A study of people on dialysis found that 47% said needle phobia kept them from doing self-care treatments.3 So, if you have this problem, you're not alone!

The degree of needle fear can vary. Some people can have blood drawn or get a vaccine and not pass out-if they look away and lie flat. Others are so fearful that they avoid all needles. They may even refuse care they need to live. If you need dialysis and are very afraid of needles, there are treatments that can help you.

Ways to Reduce Needle Fear

Since needle fear triggers the vasovagal reflex, treatment is based on stopping this reflex in its tracks—or training your body not to react. Here are some ways that have worked for others:


It is not your fault if you are afraid of needles—but you don't need to stay that way. You can take charge of your fear and make sure you get the care the care you need to feel your best.


  1. Hamilton JG. Needle phobia: a neglected diagnosis. J Fam Practice; 41(2):169-75, 1995. Abstract of article available here.
  2. Oswalt RM, Napoliello M. Motivations of blood donors and nondonors. J Applied Psychol; 59:122-24, 1974.
  3. McLaughlin K, Manns B, Mortis G, Hons R, Taub K. Why patients with ESRD do not select self-care dialysis as a treatment option. Am J Kidney Dis; 41(2):380-85, 2003.
  4. Peterson AL, Isler WC. Applied tension treatment of vasovagal syncope during pregnancy. Military Med; 169(9):751-3, 2004. Abstract of article available here.
  5. Dhingra RK, Young EW, Hulbert-Shearon TE, Leavey SF, Port FK: Type of vascular access and mortality in U.S. hemodialysis patients. Kidney Int; 60:1443-1451, 2001.