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    Phobia - simple/specific

    A phobia is a persistent and irrational fear of a certain object, animal, activity, or situation that poses little to no actual danger.

    Causes

    Specific phobias are a type of anxiety disorder in which a person may feel extremely anxious or has a pannic attack when exposed to the object of fear. Specific phobias areone ofthe most common psychiatric disorders, affecting up to 10% of people.

    Common phobias include the fear of:

    • Blood, injections, and other medical procedures
    • Certain animals (for instance, dogs or snakes)
    • Enclosed spaces
    • Flying
    • High places
    • Insects or spiders
    • Lightning

    Symptoms

    Being exposed to the feared object, or even thinking about being exposed to it causes an anxiety reaction.

    • This fear or anxiety is much stronger than the real threat.
    • You may sweat excessively, haveproblems controllingyour muscles or actions, or have a fast heart rate.

    You will avoid situations in which you may come into contact with the feared object or animal -- for example, avoiding driving through tunnels, if tunnels are the subject ofyour phobia. This type of avoidance can interfere with your job and social life.

    You may feel weak or cowardly and lose self-esteem when avoiding the object of the phobia.

    Exams and Tests

    The health care provider will ask about your history of phobia, and will get a description of the behavior from you, your family, and friends.

    Signs include:

    • Elevated blood pressure
    • Rapid heart rate

    Treatment

    The goal of treatment is to help you function effectively. The success of the treatment usually depends on the severity of the phobia.

    Systematic desensitization is a technique used to treat phobias. You are asked to relax, then imagine theparts of the phobia, working from the least fearful to the most fearful. Gradual exposure to the real-life situation has also been used with success to help people overcome their fears.

    Anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications are sometimes used to help relieve the symptoms of phobias. See: Panic disorder for more information about medications.

    Behavioral therapies should be used together with drug therapy. These include:

    • Cognitive-behavioral therapy, including learning to recognize and replace panic-causing thoughts
    • Exposure
    • Pleasant mental imagery
    • Relaxation techniques

    Behavioral treatment appears to have long-lasting benefits.

    Other treatments that can reduce the number of attacks include:

    • Getting regular exercise
    • Getting enough sleep
    • Reducing or avoiding the use of caffeine, some over-the-counter cold medications, and other stimulants
    • Scheduling regularmeals

    Phobia clinics and group therapy are available in some areas to help people deal with common phobias, such as a fear of flying.

    Outlook (Prognosis)

    Phobias tend to be chronic, but they can respond to treatment.

    Possible Complications

    Some phobias may have consequences that affect job performance or social functioning. Some anti-anxiety medications used to treat phobias, such as benzodiazepines, may cause physical dependence.

    When to Contact a Medical Professional

    Call for an appointment with your health care provider or a mental health professional if a simple phobia is interfering with life activities.

    References

    Taylor CT, Pollack MH, LeBeau RT, Simon NM. Anxiety disorders: Panic, social anxiety, and generalized anxiety. In: Stern TA, Rosenbaum JF, Fava M, Biederman J, Rauch SL, eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 1st ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2008:chap 32.

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    • Fears and phobias

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      • Fears and phobias

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      A Closer Look

        Review Date: 3/7/2012

        Reviewed By: Fred K. Berger, MD, Addiction and Forensic Psychiatrist, Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

        The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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