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Scared sick?
Ease medical-test anxieties

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Blood tests are one of the most common tests done today—and they usually only involve a little pinch. But sometimes it takes multiple pokes to find a vein. The thought of that—coupled with the mere sight of a needle—is enough to make some patients run for the hills. Here’s how you can make a blood test go more smoothly:

  • Water your veins. Guzzling eight to 10 glasses of water a day can help make veins stick up, limiting the amount of needle poking you have to endure. As long as your healthcare provider doesn’t say otherwise, start drinking up a day or two before your test.
  • Take a walk. It’ll get the blood flowing.
  • Banish dry skin. Applying a moisturizer a few times a day to the area where you expect to get stuck—from the elbow to the hand for an arm stick—may help make the puncture less painful.
  • Warm your blood. Leave your coat or sweater on; warmth makes for better blood circulation and easy-to-locate veins. Or try dangling your arm to raise blood pressure in those veins and make them easier to spot.

A gentler mammogram

Mammograms require compression of the breast—something that many women find uncomfortable. Discomfort can be a huge deterrent for women who should be getting this important screening. Here are some ways you can make it a little easier on your breasts:

  • Avoid scheduling your mammogram the week before your period. Breasts are usually more tender at this time. Aim for the week after your period ends.
  • Avoid caffeine for a week or so before your test, since it can increase breast tenderness.
  • Take a pain reliever like ibuprofen or acetaminophen an hour before your mammogram.
  • Ask your X-ray technician about thin foam pads that can be placed between your breast and the mammography machine to lessen pain.
  • Tell the X-ray technician if the discomfort is too much. He or she may be able to use less pressure.

You’re in a cold exam room, wearing a flimsy paper gown, staring at the strange-looking medical equipment. No wonder you get frightened or nervous about medical tests. Some people fear these exams because they’re not sure what to expect. Some may be a little embarrassed about the procedure because it involves a particularly sensitive or private part of the body, while others fear any pain that may be associated with the test.

These are all legitimate worries. If you’re feeling nervous, tell your healthcare provider so he or she is aware of your concerns and can address them. Other helpful strategies:

  • Take other people’s experiences with a grain of salt. There’s always that friend of a friend who had a bad experience with the procedure. Remember, everyone responds differently. And with technology constantly changing, your test could very well involve less invasive techniques, require a less harrowing preparation and offer more gentle anesthesia than the same procedure did just a few years ago.
  • Understand why you’re having the test. Did a prior screening reveal something unusual? Is this a routine screening for someone your age? What might the results show? Knowing exactly why you’re having a test can help you feel well prepared, more relaxed and in control of the situation.
  • Know what to expect. Surprises aren’t a good thing when you’re talking about testing. Don’t be afraid to ask your healthcare provider about how he or she performs the procedure, how uncomfortable it might be and how long it will take.
  • Follow orders. Some tests have pretty specific preparation instructions. For example, colonoscopies require that you fast for several hours and take a laxative preparation to clean out your bowels. Not following your healthcare provider’s instructions precisely can mean the procedure has to be rescheduled, causing you more stress.
  • Just relax. Take your mind off your worries in the waiting room by reading or listening to your favorite music on your iPod or portable CD player. Some people find relaxation techniques to be helpful. You can pretend to be somewhere else—picture yourself on a desert island. Or try breathing techniques: Take slow breaths, concentrating on the sound of your breathing.
  • Ask about comfort measures. If a procedure is becoming unbearable, let the healthcare professional performing it know. Ask whether the procedure can be modified or whether another technique may be less painful for you. For example, if you just can’t stand the compression of a mammogram, the technician may be able to ease up a little or use a special pad that cushions the breast. Are you a woman who’s uncomfortable having a male perform the procedure? Inquire about having a female healthcare professional perform or observe your test.

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