If you have been diagnosed with lymphoma, odds are you’ve already had a blood test — or several. Certain markers in your blood help oncologists and health care providers determine what type of cancer you have, monitor your lymphoma, and find the right cancer treatment options, so frequent blood draws are likely in your future.
Some people don’t worry too much about blood tests, but others find them stressful. Blood tests may cause anxiety for a number of reasons, including undergoing the test itself or waiting for the results. Here’s what you need to know so you can relax the next time you go in for a blood draw.
Blood tests might cause anxiety for a number of reasons. Some people are affected by all of them; others may be affected by one. Coupled with frequent blood tests, this anxiety can affect a person’s quality of life, well-being, and mental health, so it’s important to understand the potential causes of anxiety and plan ways to deal with them.
The fear of needles is called trypanophobia, which studies have found affects up to 10 percent of all adults. Some people fear needles so much that they’ll do everything they can to avoid tests that might involve them. If you live with lymphoma, however, avoiding tests involving needles likely isn’t a viable option.
Some people fear blood tests because they are afraid of blood itself (hemophobia) — or because they fear medical procedures that involve their blood (blood-injection-injury phobia). These specific phobias — more commonly than some others — can cause people to faint.
This is due to a vasovagal reflex, which causes a person’s nervous system to malfunction if they see blood or experience the removal of their blood. Their heart rate slows and their blood pressure drops, so they faint or pass out. They usually regain consciousness very quickly.
Waiting for test results is stressful, especially if you’re expecting something bad. Many people with cancer fear blood tests because they hate anxiously waiting for the results. Even if the news turns out positive, the time of anxiety can be excruciating and frightening.
If you have a fear of needles, blood, or medical procedures involving blood, there are a few things you can do to help yourself relax.
If you are afraid of needles or blood — and especially if you’re worried about fainting — talk to your health care team or oncology provider when they order the test. Also speak to the person who will be performing the test. Make sure they understand your anxiety and what might happen during the test. They may be able to give you medical advice to help alleviate some of your anxiety or prepare for potential fainting.
Many health care professionals who draw blood at cancer centers or who work in cancer care are used to people having these fears. They may be able to reassure you by answering any questions and providing a soothing environment where the test can take place. They might also be able to distract you, so you don’t have to see the needles, the blood, or the test while it is being done.
People expected to undergo infusions and multiple blood tests down the road sometimes have a port inserted. A port is a plastic pocket, placed beneath the skin through a short outpatient procedure — usually on the upper side of the chest. The port can be used for drawing blood and administering medication. Alternatively, a person may get a peripherally inserted central catheter, which functions similarly to a port but is used on a shorter-term basis — weeks versus months or years. These devices can speed up the blood-drawing process and minimize the use of needles. This makes tests and other procedures more tolerable for people who are afraid of needles or seeing their own blood.
If you are concerned about fainting, you can try techniques involving tensing your muscles. This can boost your blood pressure to a normal level if it starts to drop, preventing you from fainting. These techniques are most successful when you practice them regularly before you go in for your test.
One approach recommended by the NHS is as follows:
The NHS recommends doing this three times daily for a week prior to your test.
During your test, you can tense your muscles the way you’ve done during your practice session. You may need to relax the muscles where the test is being performed. You should also take care not to squeeze any muscles in an area that’s injured or has a wound.
Sometimes, having a loved one or a trusted caregiver nearby during a blood test can make a huge difference. Contact your testing center ahead of time to make sure you can bring someone in with you. Let your person distract you, hold you, massage you, or do whatever needs to be done to ease your fears and make the test easier.
Breathing exercises can help relax your body. These relaxation techniques are not recommended if you’re worried about fainting. However, they can help reduce the panic some people get when undergoing a blood test.
There are a number of exercises that you can try. One simple approach entails closing your eyes and breathing deeply into the bottom of your chest, then slowly releasing that breath. Do this for five to 10 breaths to help keep yourself calm.
Others prefer counted breathing. You may start by inhaling for a count of three, then exhaling for a count of five. As you progress through this exercise and feel yourself calming, extend both your inhalations and your exhalations. Eventually, you may be able to inhale for a count of seven or eight and exhale for a count of 10 to 12. Do this for a few minutes to keep anxiety at bay.
If you’re fine during a blood test, but you find yourself anxious while awaiting results, there are a few things you can do to help yourself relax.
Feeling anxious while awaiting test results is completely normal. When you anticipate anxiety, you can make plans to help alleviate it before it hits.
Strategies for preparing for anxiety may include:
Before undergoing your test, make sure you understand the details about getting your results. Find out who will contact you, how they’ll reach out, and when you can expect to hear from them.
You may also want to know what the possible results will be and how different outcomes may affect your care. While you can’t plan for everything, knowing there’s a plan in place for the most likely results may help you relax.
Some people find that their friends and loved ones provide plenty of support as they wait for test results. Others find that cancer support groups — such as MyLymphomaTeam — help, because people there have similarly endured waiting for test results.
Still, others choose to meet with a therapist who can help them process their anxiety. Some therapists specialize in working with people diagnosed with cancer. These specialists are trained to help you through many parts of living with lymphoma, including waiting for blood test results.
MyLymphomaTeam is the online social network for people who have been diagnosed with lymphoma, their caregivers, and their loved ones. Here, more than 11,000 members ask questions, share their stories, and encourage others who live with lymphoma.
How do you prepare for blood tests? Share your thoughts or tips in the comments below or by posting on MyLymphomaTeam.