3 Things to Do If You’re Freaked Out by Blood Tests

3 Things to Do If You’re Freaked Out by Blood Tests
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Note: This column was updated July 23, 2020, to remove erroneous information about red blood cells. We regret the error. 

When I was newly diagnosed seven years ago, one of the hardest things to deal with was the idea of having regular blood tests. I was petrified of needles. 

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. 

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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.

Jessie Ace is host of the DISabled to ENabled podcast. A podcast that aims to inspire people living with chronic illness. She’s interviewed everyone from Paralympians, radio DJs, chronic illness bloggers, and marathon runners. She’s also a writer and illustrator for the biggest MS charities worldwide such as the multiple sclerosis today, National MS Society, MS Society UK, shift.MS, MS-UK amongst others and she has also written articles and illustrated for Momentum magazine, MS Matters and New Pathways. Jessie was diagnosed with MS at 22 years old and says MS makes her feel blessed every day to be able to live a new life and to connect with so many amazing people. Her own experience of being newly diagnosed so young was negative and scary – she wants to change this for other young people and support them through the process by being a patient advocate.
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Jessie Ace is host of the DISabled to ENabled podcast. A podcast that aims to inspire people living with chronic illness. She’s interviewed everyone from Paralympians, radio DJs, chronic illness bloggers, and marathon runners. She’s also a writer and illustrator for the biggest MS charities worldwide such as the multiple sclerosis today, National MS Society, MS Society UK, shift.MS, MS-UK amongst others and she has also written articles and illustrated for Momentum magazine, MS Matters and New Pathways. Jessie was diagnosed with MS at 22 years old and says MS makes her feel blessed every day to be able to live a new life and to connect with so many amazing people. Her own experience of being newly diagnosed so young was negative and scary – she wants to change this for other young people and support them through the process by being a patient advocate.

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11 comments

  1. RG says:

    If you cough at the same time your nurse inserts the needle you won’t feel it! It’s a trick allergists use with kids. 😎

    “As the needle comes into contact with the skin, the patient is urged to cough vigorously. That cough, say the doctors, in an article published online ahead of print in the British Journal of Plastic Surgery (www.bjps.com), may provide distraction and momentarily increase blood pressure. The authors say that it has been established that hypertension can reduce pain perception.”
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC344294/

    • Jessie Ace says:

      Hey Leanne, from my understanding it boosts the oxygen in your blood which creates more blood cells (so you don’t pass out) secondly, it helps the nurse to locate your veins too 🙂 does that help lovely? x

    • Debra Barton says:

      No one can ever get my vein. I try to drink water, but I’m two hours away. I urinate constantly and don’t want this to happen. Cough when the needle goes in, that’s a good idea. I’ve had one person after the other try to get a vein. Lots of times they give up after trying both arms.

      • Linda Mattoi says:

        I was told by the phlebotomist that when you drink before getting blood drawn it hydrates you and your veins are easier to find. Even for a fasting blood test.
        I live in Pennsylvania USA
        They say “you will feel a little prick.”

        • Barney Porpoise says:

          If I ever heard a medical professional utter “You will feel a Little Prick”, I believe that when I was done laughing, that my statement would be an empathetic, “I better not be feeling a little prick, because my spouse would be 😡upset 😡!”

  2. FB says:

    PLEASE – let’s at least get the biological processes right. I’d like to see some actual evidence to Re support your ludicrous claim that “Drinking a pint of water beforehand means you are boosting the oxygen in your system, thereby creating more red blood cells. If you don’t do this, you’ll have too little blood in you at the time they take it, and that’s why you pass out — a lack of oxygen.” Drinking water does not stimulate the production of red blood cells, and even if it did nothing would happen in such a short space of time as it takes two days for a red blood cell to be created from the stem cells produced by your bone marrow. What drinking water does do is ensure that you are adequately hydrated and thus your blood volume is not reduced and veins will “pop up” more easily for the sample to be taken. For many PwMS who have bladder and continence issues it’s a very fine balancing act between fluid consumption and the timing of blood draws so that you don’t pee your pants while the sample is being taken!!! For managing MS related urgency issues I’ve found that drinking a reasonable sized glass of water about 15 to 20 minutes beforehand helps, and then staying at the blood draw site and not leaving until after I’ve been to the toilet is a useful strategy.

    Ditto for the statement “When you let panic take over, the brain uses more oxygen from the blood, meaning fewer red blood cells are created, so your oxygen drops.” This is utter garbage. I suggest you read the article on this link, where the process of red cell production is explained. Note that it took a whole 2½ minutes for me to find an article of a suitable level that ordinary people could understand and you should have done so and understood the red cell production process before writing such misleading unscientific rubbish. The article also explains that red blood cell production is driven by reduced oxygen levels, not by drinking water as you have claimed, so “theoretically” if your brain was using more oxygen then this should trigger higher production of red blood cells, not less as you have stated.
    https://www.britannica.com/science/blood-biochemistry/Production-of-red-blood-cells-erythropoiesis

    For probably 98% of the population insertion of the needle used for taking a blood sample is pretty much painless, it’s the hype and anxiety that people get caught up in which is the problem. The best tip I can give is to simply not watch – look away while the nurse inserts the needle, and you’ll find that it really does end up being just a quick “pin prick” that’s done before you’ve even had time to get worked up about it. That’s why people distract children with toys and things to get them to look away – generally when children need to have blood taken they are highly stressed already about whatever’s happened that has made taking a sample necessary, but if they can be distracted it’s all over before they even notice it. For older children and adults it’s all the stressing about it for an hour beforehand which is the problem and makes it seem like a huge thing.

    And Yes, I’ve had many many many blood tests in the last few years – a couple of serious illnesses had me having blood tests daily for several weeks, a different illness had them done weekly for over 3 months, so I have plenty of experience. However, before MS and other health issues I used to have a lot of the stress and anxiety that many people suffer from but the effectiveness of the “make sure you’re properly hydrated and look away” hints will fairly quickly reduce the stress levels, even for people who have hard to find veins.

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