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Understanding and Dealing With a Fear of Surgery


Updated June 03, 2014

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What is Surgical Fear and Anxiety?
Depression and Surgery Image

Worried About Surgery

Image: © Andrea Morini/Getty Images

Surgical anxiety is a psychological issue where a patient’s fear of surgery is so significant that they can begin to have physical symptoms such as a racing heart, nausea, and chest pain. A severe bout of anxiety is commonly known as a “panic attack” can be caused when a patient afraid of surgery dwells on their fear or begins the surgery process.

Patients with an anxiety disorder may be more prone to surgical anxiety and fear than the average patient, but many people first experience it when preparing for surgery. Reasons for anxiety vary from fear of the unknown to having a bad experience with previous surgeries.

Surgical anxiety can be caused by fear of the result of the surgery, like an alteration in the appearance of the body, such as a mastectomy. Another surgery that can affect the self-esteem of the patient is prostate surgery, where the patient is facing the risk that they may lose sexual function. While all surgeries have a risk of death, some surgeries have a higher risk than others, resulting in the patient pondering his/her own mortality.

Regardless of the cause of anxiety, it is essential to seek treatment so the patient’s health does not suffer. Anxiety can be a vicious cycle, with the stress and physical symptoms causing sleeplessness, which in turn makes the anxiety worse as the ability to cope is diminished. Many patients with severe anxiety will postpone or avoid surgery, even if it is very harmful to their health. Controlling the anxiety well enough to allow surgery to proceed is essential.

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