What is algophobia?

What is algophobia?

The phobia can involve various areas, including pain. Whether it follows a bad experience or not, it can have repercussions on the person's daily life and health. Explanations.

Definition: what does the word algophobic mean?

Etymologically, the word algophobia comes from the Greek “algos” which means “pain” and “phobos” which translates to “fear”. An algophobe is therefore a person who is afraid of pain. While it is natural to fear suffering, for algophobes this fear is particularly significant and has repercussions on their daily life.

Fear of pain: What are the causes?

There are several reasons why a person may be more afraid of suffering. Among the most common causes of algophobia are:

  • A developed sensitivity : “There are potentially biological causes. Some people are more sensitive than others to pain, sensory perceptions“, says Pierre Bordaberry, doctor of psychology. So, in the same way that some individuals are very sensitive to brightness or heat, for example, others may be more receptive to pain.
  • Poor learning of sensitive management : Even if certain sensations are sometimes unpleasant, it is possible, by being exposed to them, to learn to tolerate them better. But sometimes, because they hate these sensations, people run away from them and don't learn to get used to them.
  • Badly experienced emotions : “It happens that the person constructs a narrative around the pain which increases internal sensations. If she feels that suffering is a sign of a serious illness, this increases her pain and alertness. The whole scenario that is created around the pain influences the sensation itself“, summarizes Pierre Bordaberry.
  • A bad experience : The fear of pain also very often arises from a bad experience. This may be a medical appointment during which the patient experienced severe pain without being prepared for it. The doctor may not have taken his apprehension and complaints into sufficient consideration. These bad memories can become anchored in the memory and create trauma that causes the patient to flee any potentially similar situation. “When a person experiences a traumatic situation, their brain records all the information relating to it. As soon as an element recalls this event, it revives and increases the sensations felt“, explains the doctor of psychology.

Algophobia, a fear that can happen at any age

Algophobia can develop at any age. Children, because they have never had blood taken for example, may be frightened by the needle and categorically refuse to be pricked. “As with all physical sensations, younger people often have more difficulty managing pain because there is the unknown and they do not yet know how to put it into words. The child will learn to manage pain also based on the feedback he is given. If he tells the dentist that he is in pain and the dentist adapts, the pain will decrease, on the one hand because the dentist will act differently and on the other hand because he will have been at the listening and reassuring. If he does not listen, the patient will react more strongly to be listened to“, explains Pierre Bordaberry.

In adults, having had or heard about bad experiences can also fuel excessive worry.

Symptoms of fear of pain

Algophobia is one phobia among others and, as such, it presents symptoms similar to other phobias. It could be :

  • Avoidance: The person flees anything that can produce a fear of pain. It is moreover the intensity of this avoidance which will indicate to the psychologist to what extent the phobia is pervasive.
  • Physical symptoms: The simple idea of ​​being confronted with pain can cause physical symptoms: sweating, trembling, stomach ache, nausea, dizziness, anxiety, panic attack, etc.

Simple fear of pain or real algophobia?

To distinguish a person who normally dreads a medical examination deemed painful from true algophobia, it is often the intensity and repercussions of the disorder that count. Thus, if the fear of pain persists over the long term, takes precedence over the need for care, leads to an avoidance strategy, and isolates, it is very likely that the person is algophobic. To be sure, it is better to discuss it with your general practitioner or a psychologist.

What consequences?

The consequences of algophobia can hinder the functioning of daily tasks and prevent the person from taking care of their health. Frightened by the idea of ​​having dental work, for example, she may put off or even avoid going to the dentist. The same goes for any other medical procedure that could cause pain. “A person who is afraid of internal sensations can develop very disabling disorders such as panic disorder. At the slightest internal sensation of pain, she will have very strong anxiety attacks.“, recalls Pierre Bordaberry. They can also prevent themselves from experiencing pleasant moments, sporting activities, DIY or any other daily activity likely to lead to a risk of injury or pain. Finally, the algophobic person may have a tendency to go out less, to stick to what she has learned, not to take risks and to isolate herself. However, by wanting to avoid any movement, she becomes sedentary, loses mobility and physical fitness.

Treatment and therapy: how to overcome algophobia?

Faced with this fear of pain, some doctors sometimes prescribe analgesics or analgesics to reduce pain or beta-blockers to reduce symptoms of stress (slow down heart rate and blood pressure).

But to really work on the origin of the problem, psychotherapy is required. “What is mainly recommended are cognitive and behavioral therapies (CBT). They learn to manage pain and return to what created this intolerance to pain, the narrative created around it to be able to at least eliminate this cause“, adds the doctor of psychology. The duration of therapy varies greatly from one person to another. It will be shorter, for example, for a child who just needs to learn to manage his fear of pain. She will be much longer if the person has experienced profound trauma.