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How to Cope with Medical Test Anxiety

What is medical test anxiety?

Medical test anxiety is a fear of medical tests. Medical tests are procedures that are used to diagnose, screen for, or monitor various diseases and conditions. While many people sometimes feel nervous or uncomfortable about testing, it doesn't usually cause serious problems or symptoms.

Medical test anxiety can be serious. It can become a type of phobia. A phobia is an anxiety disorder that causes an intense, irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger. Phobias can also cause physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, and trembling.

What are the different types of medical tests?

The most common types of medical tests are:

  • Tests of body fluids. Your body fluids include blood, urine, sweat, and saliva. Testing involves getting a sample of the fluid.
  • Imaging tests. These tests look at the inside of your body. Imaging tests include x-rays, ultrasound, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Another type of imaging test is endoscopy. Endoscopy uses a thin, lighted tube with a camera that is inserted into the body. It provides images of internal organs and other systems.
  • Biopsy. This is a test that takes a small sample of tissue for testing. It is used to check for cancer and certain other conditions.
  • Measurement of body functions. These tests check the activity of different organs. Testing may include checking the electrical activity of the heart or brain or measuring the function of the lungs.
  • Genetic testing. These tests check cells from the skin, bone marrow, or other areas. They are most often used to diagnose genetic diseases or find out if you are at risk for getting a genetic disorder.

These procedures can provide important information about your health. Most tests have little or no risk. But people with medical test anxiety may be so afraid of testing that they avoid them altogether. And this can actually put their health at risk.

What are the types of medical test anxiety?

The most common types of medical anxieties (phobias) are:

  • Trypanophobia, the fear of needles. Many people have some fear of needles, but people with trypanophobia have an excessive fear of injections or needles. This fear may stop them from getting needed tests or treatment. It can be especially dangerous to people with chronic medical conditions that need frequent testing or treatment.
  • Iatrophobia, the fear of doctors and medical tests. People with iatrophobia may avoid seeing health care providers for routine care or when they have symptoms of illness. But some minor illnesses can turn serious or even deadly if left untreated.
  • Claustrophobia, the fear of enclosed spaces. Claustrophobia can affect people in many different ways. You may experience claustrophobia if you are getting an MRI. During an MRI, you are placed inside an enclosed, tube-shaped scanning machine. The space in the scanner is narrow and small.

How do I cope with medical test anxiety?

Fortunately, there are some relaxation techniques that may reduce your medical test anxiety, including:

  • Deep breathing. Take three slow breaths. Count to three for each one, then repeat. Slow down if you start to feel lightheaded.
  • Counting. Count to 10, slowly and silently.
  • Imagery. Close your eyes and picture an image or a place that makes you feel happy.
  • Muscle relaxation. Concentrate on making your muscles feel relaxed and loose.
  • Talking. Chat with someone in the room. It may help distract you.

If you have trypanophobia, iatrophobia, or claustrophobia, the following tips may help reduce your specific type of anxiety.

For trypanophobia, fear of needles:

  • If you don't have to limit or avoid fluids beforehand, drink lots of water the day before and morning of a blood test. This puts more fluid in your veins and may make it easier to draw blood.
  • Ask your provider if you can get a topical anesthetic to numb the skin.
  • If the sight of a needle bothers you, close your eyes or turn away during the test.
  • If you have diabetes and need to get regular insulin injections, you might be able to use a needle-free alternative, such as a jet injector. A jet injector delivers insulin using a high-pressure jet of mist, instead of a needle.

For iatrophobia, the fear of doctors and medical tests:

  • Bring a friend or family member to your appointment for support.
  • Bring a book, magazine, or something else to distract you while you wait for your appointment.
  • For moderate or severe iatrophobia, you may want to consider seeking help from a mental health professional.
  • If you feel comfortable talking with your provider, ask about medicines that could help reduce your anxiety.

To avoid claustrophobia during an MRI:

  • Ask your health care provider for a mild sedative prior to the exam.
  • Ask your provider if you can get tested in an open MRI scanner instead of a traditional MRI. Open MRI scanners are larger and have an open side. It may make you feel less claustrophobic. The images produced may not be as good as those done in a traditional MRI, but it still may be helpful in making a diagnosis.

Avoiding medical tests can be harmful to your health. If you suffer from any type of medical anxiety, you should talk with your health care provider or a mental health professional.

References

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The information on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Contact a health care provider if you have questions about your health.