Coping with Test Pain, Discomfort and Anxiety

Nobody particularly enjoys having blood drawn or providing a urine or stool sample, but a medical test conducted on a small sample collected from your body can give your doctor information that can help save or improve the quality of your life. Most people get through their medical tests just fine even though they may feel some embarrassment, discomfort, or anxiety at the outset. If undergoing medical tests makes you or someone you care for anxious, embarrassed, or even difficult to manage, read this for some general tips on how to make the sample collection experience more positive and less stressful.

Know What to Expect

Your physician uses medical tests to help ensure accurate and timely diagnosis of conditions that could seriously affect your health. Tests also help your physician monitor your therapy. As bothersome as it may seem to undergo the testing, the good news is that the tests in use today are more accurate and useful than ever. They also tend to be significantly less intrusive.
Sometimes, undergoing an unfamiliar medical procedure can turn out to be a tense, upsetting, or even frightening experience. With a little preparation, however, you can help ensure that your lab test is as quick, painless, and accurate as possible. Emotional distress is more likely when your experience with a medical procedure does not match your expectations. Knowing what will happen is a good way to maintain composure.
Understanding why a medical test has been ordered can improve your attitude and preparation for the test. Being well prepared also helps you feel more relaxed and in control of the situation. Ask your physician to explain the reasons for your test and how the test will be conducted.

Understanding Your Tests

When a test is ordered for you, you should find out why the test needs to be done, how it will be done, and what the physician expects to learn from it. Here are some good questions to ask:

  • Why does this test need to be done? How could it change the course of my care?
  • What do I need to know or do before the test?
  • What happens during and after the test?
  • How much will the test hurt or be an inconvenience? What are its risks?
  • How long will the test take? When will results be available?
  • Where do you need to go to take the test? Is there a “good” time to schedule the test?
  • What are normal results? What do abnormal results mean?
  • What factors may affect the results?
  • What course of action may be next, after the test?

Your doctor or nurse is the best person to look to for answers. No matter how brief the answers may be, asking your physician, physician’s assistant, or nurse is likely to provide you with the answer most specific to your situation. Of course, time constraints, your comfort in asking questions of your doctor, and simply forgetting to ask the important questions will sometimes compel many patients to look elsewhere for this information. Fortunately, there are many other sources to turn to.
The medical technologist or laboratory technician can answer questions about how the sample is collected; this person may not, however, have the knowledge to fully answer your questions about what the test is for, how results are interpreted, and what happens next.

Relaxation Techniques

Knowing a few simple relaxations and focusing techniques can help you avoid tensing your muscles or becoming faint during any difficult medical procedure. Although the medical staffs performing these procedures is usually good at making small talk and creating distractions that take your mind off your discomfort, you can also soothe yourself or an anxious patient with the following techniques. If you are anxious about medical tests and need them frequently, you will find it helpful to practice these skills at home to make them even more effective when you need them
1. Breathe – Take three slow breaths, counting to three for each one and breathing through your nose. Breathe out through your mouth, counting to six. Push your stomach out as you breathe in (to breathe more deeply). Slow down if you start to feel lightheaded.
2. Relax Your Muscles – Consciously relax your muscles. Let them feel loose.
3. Focus – Find a focal point to look at or envision a pleasing image.
4. Count – Count slowly and silently to ten.
5. Talk – Chat with someone in the room. The distraction can relax you

That Wasn’t So Bad Now, Was It?

Many of the tests your doctor orders for you today are less intrusive and more comfortable than the older, less accurate tests they have replaced. A variety of specimen collection equipment has also been designed with patient comfort in mind.
Don’t hesitate to request a modification or a different approach that better suits your needs. You can expect that the health professionals responsible for collecting the sample have been trained to be sensitive to the needs of apprehensive patients and people with special needs. They have some proven strategies to help you and are usually willing to listen to you to determine what will work best in a situation.
Understanding what will happen, communicating your needs to the health care professionals assisting you, employing simple relaxation techniques, and knowing how to take care of any minor physical pains will help the apprehensive individual be most comfortable and prepared for a medical test. Now, the next time your doctor orders some “routine tests,” you can take comfort in knowing the routine.