Working Yourself into a Tizzy

Uncertainty of diagnosis can cause as much stress as knowing you have an illness

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Waiting for medical test results increases anxiety can be more stressful than knowing you have a serious illness.

The findings from a recent study will be presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

"Not knowing your diagnosis is a very serious stressor," said the study's lead author, Elvira V. Lang, M.D., associate professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School in Boston. "It can be as serious as knowing that you have malignant disease or need to undergo a possibly risky treatment."

Researchers studied stress levels of 214 women about to undergo various diagnostic and treatment procedures, including: 112 awaiting breast biopsy; 42 awaiting hepatic chemoembolization, a treatment for liver cancer; and 60 awaiting uterine fibroid embolization, a treatment for uterine myoma or benign fibroids. Those awaiting breast biopsy reported the most anxiety, while possible fibroid-embolization and chemoempbolization patients reported less anxiety, which was still significant. Researchers used four standardized tests to determine the levels of anxiety and stress the women reported: the State Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI), Impact of Events Scale (IES), Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) and Perceived Stress Scale (PSS).

"These results really drive the point home that the distress of not knowing your diagnosis is serious," Lang said. "We believe that healthcare providers and patients are not fully aware of this and may downplay the emotional toll of having a diagnostic exam."

Lang said that training medical professionals to talk to patients is critical to lessening anxiety in these situations.

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Review Date: 
November 29, 2010
Last Updated:
November 30, 2010