5 Tips to Overcome Discomfort During a Medical Exam

Use one of these techniques to limit fear and anxiety during a difficult exam

Having anxiety or fear about pain or discomfort during a test or a procedure is common. People living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) will undergo a variety of tests during the management of their disease. In particular, tests such as a digital rectal exam or a sigmoidoscopy, which are typically done without sedation, can bring on a significant amount of anxiety. Not only is there a worry about potential discomfort, but there can also be a concern about embarrassment.

These concerns are completely valid, and while hearing first-hand accounts of others who have had the tests before may help allay some of the worry, more help might also be needed. A way to channel your thoughts so that you're not as focused on the discomfort. There are a few techniques that you can employ to help yourself through a procedure that you have been dreading.


Be Upfront With Your Healthcare Providers

Nervous female patient behind doctor

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It's true, your healthcare providers have heard it all. If you ask them, they might even tell you some of the funnier stories about the things that they've heard or seen. They know that patients feel anxiety and stress about an appointment, and especially about procedures. But they won't know exactly how you, an individual patient, feel unless you tell them. They're not going to poke and prod you any more than necessary, but if you need help getting through an exam or a procedure let them know. You can discuss together the steps that can be taken to help you feel most comfortable.​​ 


Use a Focal Point

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One technique to try is focusing on a point in the room or something that you bring with you. If you bring a focal point, check with your healthcare provider that it's something that will be allowed in the treatment or procedure room. Some ideas for things that can serve as focal points are worry beads, a stuffed animal, or even a picture of a loved one. The point is to have something that you can use to take yourself out of your worry, your embarrassment, or your discomfort.​​ 


Use Breathing Techniques

Woman Breathing

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Breathing techniques can help you focus and relieve your stress. The simplest breathing technique is to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. If you concentrate on breathing in this manner, steadily and deeply, it will help you relax your entire body during the procedure. There are several other breathing techniques that you can try, and you can keep going until you find the one that helps you best. 



Close up of woman practicing mudra meditation
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If you've never meditated before, the day of your healthcare provider's appointment is not going to be the optimum time to start. For meditation to work well, it takes time to practice and hone the technique that will work best for you. But that doesn't mean you can't try! If your appointment is tomorrow, don't worry, you can use all the tips above, but when you get home, make a plan to start practicing meditation on a regular basis. You will then be prepared for the next time you need some stress relief. 


Muscle Relaxation

Yoga student in savasana

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Muscle relaxation will be helpful when it is necessary for you to avoid tensing up. This is true for many physical exams, especially vaginal and rectal exams. Tensing your muscles may increase your perception of pain, so learning how to relax your body can be an effective coping technique. You don't necessarily need any formal training to relax your muscles, but it can take time and practice to learn how to target certain muscle groups.

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By Amber J. Tresca
Amber J. Tresca is a freelance writer and speaker who covers digestive conditions, including IBD. She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 16.