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Medical Test Anxiety? 5 Ways To Cope

It’s about time to schedule your colonoscopy—but you keep putting it off. This procedure isn’t something we would choose to do for fun, yet it can be lifesaving, allowing the early diagnosis and treatment of cancer and other digestive conditions.

Yet many people avoid getting a colonoscopy and other recommended medical tests because they are anxious about these procedures. Experts call this medical test anxiety, and according to the National Institutes of Health, it can even rise to the level of a phobia—a type of anxiety disorder that causes an intense, irrational fear of something. These phobias include fear of needles (trypanophobia); fear of doctors and medical procedures (iatrophobia); and fear of enclosed spaces (claustrophobia), such as a patient would experience during an MRI. Phobias can cause physical symptoms, such as a pounding heart, trouble breathing, and trembling.

These are types of medical tests that might cause anxiety:

  • Blood tests. A health care professional uses a needle to draw blood in order to measure a patient’s level of cholesterol or blood sugar, or to check for the presence of HIV, hepatitis or other infections.
  • Endoscopy. A thin, lighted tube is inserted into the body to let the health care provider check for cancers and other diseases. Colonoscopy and upper GI endoscopy are common examples.
  • Medical imaging. Technologies such as x-rays, ultrasound, MRI, CT scans, bone density tests and mammograms use technology to reveal the interior of the body.
  • Biopsy. The doctor takes a small sample of tissue or cells to check for cancer or other health conditions.
  • Measurements of body functions. Painless procedures measure blood pressure, pulse, oxygen saturation and heart function.
  • Physical examinations. Some people feel anxiety about prostate or pelvic exams, oral health screenings, and dilated eye examinations.
  • Genetic testing. These tests help diagnose, or reveal a person’s risk factors for, various health conditions.

Medical test anxiety might cause a person to avoid or delay potentially lifesaving screenings and tests, worrying that a procedure could be painful, uncomfortable or embarrassing. Medical test anxiety can even increase pain and discomfort during the test, and the patient might require more sedation during the procedure. Once the test is over, having to wait a period of time for the results also can seem nerve-wracking.

5 Tips To Lessen Medical Test Anxiety

  1. Ask your doctor or other medical staff to explain the procedure, and to provide printed or online material you can consult. Understanding what the test is for, what you can expect to experience, and when you might receive the results can put your mind at ease.
  2. Avoid obsessing. Random search engine results are likely to turn up misinformation and horror stories. If a friend shares an “it happened to a friend of a friend” tale, take that with a grain of salt, as well.
  3. Share your concerns with your health care team. They can reassure you about the test, and if relevant, describe what they will do to minimize your discomfort during the procedure.
  4. Envision the future. If the test reveals a problem, early treatment can mean a better outcome. And if the test shows nothing abnormal, that will provide relief and peace of mind.
  5. While waiting for a test, during the procedure, and when waiting for results, you can practice these anxiety and stress control techniques:
    • Listen to soothing music.
    • Meditate or practice deep breathing and muscle relaxation.
    • Bring a friend, if that is allowed.
    • Get plenty of exercise while you’re getting ready for the test or waiting for results.
    • During a blood test, look away. Ask if you can have a topical anesthetic.
    • Bring something to read or browse on your phone for distraction.
    • If anxiety is severe, ask your doctor about anti-anxiety medications or a sedative.

If you continue to experience medical test anxiety that is troublesome or prevents you from getting recommended tests, consult a mental health professional.

How Right at Home Can Help

Our professional, trained caregivers can accompany your loved one to their medical appointments and even take notes to help family members stay in the loop. They can also provide a number of different in-home care services including light housekeeping, assistance with hygiene and ambulation, or medication reminders. Right at Home will work with you to select compatible, qualified professional caregivers who are screened and insured/bonded to ensure care needs are met. Our unique five-step process provides just the right fit for your family. Contact your local Right at Home* today and ask for a FREE in-home consultation.

*Home care services vary by location.

The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your health care provider. Talk to your doctor about recommended tests and relaxation techniques.

Author Leo Adam Biga

Leo Adam Biga is a veteran freelance journalist and author who writes stories about people, their passions and their magnificent obsessions. The Omaha native and University of Nebraska at Omaha graduate is the author of “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film.” Follow his work at https://www.facebook.com/LeoAdamBiga.

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