3 Things to Do If You’re Freaked Out by Blood Tests
Note: This column was updated July 23, 2020, to remove erroneous information about red blood cells. We regret the error.
I had never needed blood tests before. My mum donates blood, and I used to like going with her because they gave me sweets while I waited. She also received pin badges afterward to congratulate her on how much blood she’d donated. I never saw any needles, just lots of people lying down on beds in a big hall. I thought, “If blood tests are the same as this, they can’t be that bad, right?”
But with a blood test, they don’t give you treats, and they certainly don’t give you pin badges. (Imagine if they did — we’d have hundreds by now!) Most often, you’re stuck in a tiny room with a nurse, hoping she knows what she’s doing and has done this before.
I don’t know my blood type or what they test in your blood when you have MS, but I do know that we need blood tests. And every medication is different.
I’m on Tecfidera (dimethyl fumerate), and as far as I know, they mainly test my white blood cells (the immune cells) and some other stuff. Sometimes they test my vitamin D, and I have to specifically ask for that.
With Tecfidera, I need to have a blood test every three months or I can’t receive my medication. All medications are different, and it’s best to ask your medical team what you need to do if you’re unsure.
After having so many blood tests over the last five years, I thought I’d pass on my knowledge and my three best tips for having a blood test. These are things no one ever told me.
1. Drink a pint of water an hour before.
I used to pass out every time I had a blood test. So much anxiety and fear would build up that I couldn’t eat or drink anything. As it turns out, this is not helpful, and you need to drink at least a pint of water an hour before. Bonus tip: Have something sugary or sweet on hand for afterward. (I imagine that’s why we get sweets after giving blood?)
Water helps to make your veins more plump and visible.
2. Stay calm.
Stress and anxiety from having a blood test are perfectly normal. I remember sitting in the waiting room, waiting for my turn, and finding myself shaking with fear. I developed some strategies since then and am not nervous in the slightest now.
Make sure to tell the person drawing your blood if you’re feeling anxious so they can put you at ease. It may help to ask for numbing cream to numb the area where blood will be drawn if you’re worried about the pain of the needle. You also can try asking for a smaller needle (often called a butterfly needle), which might be less painful.
Remember, it only lasts a few seconds and is over in no time. Take deep breaths and practice my anxiety techniques.
3. Ask for help.
A tip I picked up (admittedly, too late) is easy to do. Nurses in the U.K. tend to say “sharp scratch” when they’re about to pierce the skin with the needle, which I don’t find helpful in the slightest. I frequently ask them not to say it. When they do say it, I feel my body tense up for what’s coming. Tensing up often makes it hurt more and gives me a bruise.
Do nurses say that where you are? If not, what do they say?
Another bonus tip: Take a deep breath when you know they are about to pierce the skin. That helps distract the mind, and it makes it hurt less. Two seconds and it’s over.
Do you have any tips for blood tests that I haven’t mentioned? Please share in the comments below.
Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.