8 Medical Tests That Aren't As Bad As You Think

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Elizabeth Beasley on June 27, 2021
  • Couple shopping online
    Focus on Facts, Not Fiction
    When you were a kid, you might have gotten away with faking a stomachache to skip a school exam. But as an adult, your life depends on you showing up for all kinds of important medical tests. According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly 19 million people fear common elements of health screenings, including the sight of blood, needles and seeing their weight on the doctor’s office scale. But don’t let your test anxiety harm your health. Check out the fiction and fact about these common tests and why they aren’t as bad as you think.
  • nurse-assisting-patient-undergoing-mammogram
    1. Mammogram: The 40-Second Save
    Legend: Getting squished by a cold, metal vise and never seeing your old bra size again.

    Reality: The actual imaging process takes about 40 seconds and some offices let you purchase foam pads to ease any potential discomfort. Plus, mammograms typically take place in women’s centers, which usually means female staffers who understand your experience. The biggest bonus for women over 50: getting regular mammograms has been shown to lower breast cancer risk by 35%.
  • Senior doctor checking patient's test result
    2. Pap Smear: 5 Minutes, Every Three Years
    Legend: An awkward episode of poking and prodding while you shiver in a paper gown.

    Reality: Pap smears help detect HPV (human papillomavirus), which can infect the cells in your cervix and contribute to the development of cervical cancer. It’s recommended you get a pap test every 3 years if you are under 30 and once every 3-5 years after that. Though a pap smear can feel awkward and embarrassing, the actual test takes less than 5 minutes.
  • Man looking in mirror
    3. STD/HIV Testing: At-home Alternatives
    Legend: An embarrassing revelation about the details of your sex life.

    Reality: STD screenings can feel like a conversation nobody wants to have, but being candid about intercourse can prevent the spread of disease and keep you healthy. The even better news is you don’t have to spill your secrets to a doctor right away. There are many in-home tests that will give you quick, discreet results. If you get a positive result or continue to have symptoms after a negative test, you should still consult with a doctor, who will offer treatment and support—with no judgment.
  • Young Ophthomologist
    4. Glaucoma Test: Poof! An Easier Way
    Legend: Anxiously anticipating a frightening puff of air right into your eye. Ow!

    Reality: The traditional glaucoma test that measures your eye pressure by blowing a puff of air onto your cornea doesn’t necessarily hurt, but the element of surprise can be stressful. Don’t fret—there are alternatives. Your eye doctor can do a different type of tonometry where he or she uses drops to numb your eye and accurately measure the pressure with a quick look or touch. The numbness makes this more comfortable than the air puff, so it’s worth asking your eye care provider about this alternative to make your fears go poof!
  • Swinging door
    5. Colonoscopy Prep: Keep It Cool
    Legend: Drinking a disgusting liquid and spending all night in the bathroom.

    Reality: Okay, we’ll admit it’s true: You will spend a good bit of time in the bathroom. But if you prepare properly, your colonoscopy can be less of a pain in the you-know-what, and you’ll reduce your risk of colorectal disease. Here are some secret tips for a good prep: Mix your laxative with a flavored drink powder and drink it cold.

    Make the most of your quiet time in the loo by stocking up on books and magazines and loading your digital device with movies and entertainment. Some pros recommend starting a liquid diet a few days prior to make the process flow more smoothly. Frequent application of petroleum jelly will prevent soreness and tenderness. And remember, when the test is over, you can eat whatever you want!
  • Sleep Apnea Medical Record
    6. Sleep Apnea Testing: One Night to Rest Easier
    Legend: Wearing your pajamas in front of random people while trying to sleep hooked up to a bunch of gadgets.

    Reality: It’s hard to imagine getting a good night’s sleep tethered to monitors, but it’s worth the 12 hours in a strange bed. The wires are lightweight and bundled together so you can still move freely. The room feels much like a hotel room and you’re in charge of the thermostat. Plus, these technicians have seen it all and do this every night, so there’s no need to feel self-conscious. What are the benefits of tucking in for a test? Reduced risk for heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. And feeling more rested! Who doesn’t want that?
  • Doctor and pregnant woman
    7. Pregnancy Glucose Screenings: Think Like a Kid
    Legend: Slurping a syrupy sweet drink that might make you sick to your stomach.

    Reality: For expectant moms, these tests are essential to keeping an eye on your risk for gestational diabetes. Your baby will thank you and it’s not as bad as you think. You do have to drink an extra sweet drink that will quickly raise your blood sugar—but it comes in flavors like cola, lime and orange.

    If you were a 5-year-old kid, you’d think this was the best test in the world! The sugar rush could make you a little nauseous or light-headed. This is less likely if you take the Glucose Challenge test first, which doesn’t require fasting. No matter how you feel, it won’t be as bad as the sleepless nights with your newborn that are coming your way in a few months!
  • Doctor Preparing Patient for MRI
    8. MRI: Relax, You Have Options
    Legend: Headache-inducing claustrophobic trauma of being trapped in a tube.

    Reality: An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is one of the best ways for doctors to diagnose problems with your organs, bones and soft tissues. But the thought of lying still in a noisy metal tube can be seriously stressful. There are options to make this valuable procedure easier. You can listen to music during the procedure, and many doctors will prescribe a sedative if you are really anxious or claustrophobic. Severe claustrophobes should try to find an open MRI facility with equipment that feels less constricting. And remember, the technician can always stop the procedure if you start to feel uncomfortable.
8 Medical Tests That Aren't As Bad As You Think
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Last Review Date: 2021 Jun 27
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.