The agony of waiting for test results. How do you cope?

Dr Gary
By Dr GaryCA Latest Reply 2017-04-21 20:08:11 -0500
Started 2017-03-14 10:02:40 -0500

One of the responsibilities of living with a chronic condition like diabetes is getting your labs done. Waiting for the results can be stressful. After all, the outcome can have a big impact on your life. That’s a lot of uncertainty to sit with while you’re waiting.

I hear this often from clients who are awaiting test results. Here’s what clients in this situation often experience:

• Worrying. All the uncertainty. It leaves you with an achy feeling that kind of hangs over you like a dark cloud.

• Creating stories. Without adequate information, our mind fills in the gaps. Usually with one “what if” after another, each conjuring up another version of the worst possible scenario.

• Stressing out. Yes, that’s where all that worry and story creation takes you. And stress makes it that much harder to cope. It’s a vicious cycle.

I recently posted an article on this topic. Here’s a link:

Does waiting for test results stress you out? If so, how do you cope? If not, what do you do to keep from stressing?

41 replies

Bmarie08 2017-04-07 15:21:46 -0500 Report

I always stress when it comes to test results, I'm a natural worrier and obsessively check my "patient portal" to see if they have been posted. I always have to wait days before my endocrinologist "reviews" them as well. So once I actually do see them & have questions I have to wait even longer!

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2017-04-21 20:04:34 -0500 Report

HI Bmarie, you are in good company, I think many people stress about test results. I know the wait can be hard, especially when you know they are available but your busy doctor has to get to them first. It takes a lot of patience to be a patient, right?

codered51 2017-04-06 17:45:58 -0500 Report

Had doctor's appointment today just as a follow up. As I had blood work in February gotta wait till end of May for it. That's the kind of waiting I find hard. But I did give her printed copies of my glucose numbers. She was happy with them and glad I'm continuing to be watchful. Got explanations and instructions and I'm good till. May blood work and June follow up.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2017-04-21 20:02:45 -0500 Report

HI code red, thanks for checking in. Wow, that is quite a long wait! Glad to hear you are keeping on top of your records, and working closely with your doctor. I hope you will keep us posted.

codered51 2017-04-21 20:08:11 -0500 Report

Yeah, it's every 3 months. As long as I keep doc happy and give her any reason to start me on meds I'll be happy.

WASHED OUT 2017-03-17 21:22:57 -0500 Report

I will go again monday to get new blood work done and see my doctor. I don't think it will be as good as it was the last time because my daily numbers are a little higher. I have been adjusting my insulin to try to cover my bodies change, but even at the best those are just guesses. The fastest acting insulin would have be taken sometime prior to eating and getting it just right doesn't happen often. I guess I stay to high side rather than take the chance at going to low, since seeing what happened to my friend and his Hospital stays. I am within the limits of propper control most of the time. Yes, a little nervous about what it might be but I don't think it will be extremely bad.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2017-03-19 00:39:46 -0500 Report

Hey Washed Out, thanks for letting us know what's going on with you. Sounds like you are prepared for anything when you go in to talk about results. Sounds like you are on top of what's going on with you. I hope things go well.

WASHED OUT 2017-04-06 21:35:07 -0500 Report

All blood work came out perfect, triglycerides down good cholesterol up and my A1C was 5.8, I only lost .4 during a year was 5.4 last year. Liver and kidney test came out improved, they told me to keep doing what I was doing. That is LCHF diet and lantus and novolog, I watch my glucose close and adjust my doses according to meal carbs and activity. I am Okay with these results, and fully expected to lose more on my A1C because I have had more splurge deserts than before. Sugar free apple pie and sugar free ice cream many times at Cracker Barrel. Shoney's Breakfast Bar and other places I have backed off and allowed more carbs than usual. I guess it didn't hurt my numbers as bad as I thought it would.

mlk602 2017-03-17 11:42:57 -0500 Report

Fortunately the physicians I work with give patients access to medical records including labs via a patient portal. There is a 2-3 day turn around for results to be posted. The nephrologist's office was the only one to present a problem in not complying with posting. It took a come to Jesus meeting to explain my rights as a patient along with my expectations related to my care and communication. My visits are scheduled a week after my labs. Unless I view my labs there can be no two way conversation. I use my results to formulate my questions and my goals relating to my health. I will not go to an appointment without my plan list..A frank discussion with my doctor about this issue, has assured me that resolution will be favorable.
I am a retired nurse of many years and will continue to be an advocate for my family and myself.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2017-03-19 00:37:50 -0500 Report

Hey mlk, nice to meet you. Thanks for checking in. It seems to me that more and more doctors are using patient portals. I think they are a great idea, certainly a lot faster. My only concern would be that, in the event if a serious issue apparent from the test, that the doctor be available to talk it over immediately with the patient. And I agree, having results available before the appointment helps you to use the time that much more effectively. A great idea. Glad to hear you are an advocate!

Kalisiin 2017-03-16 20:04:35 -0500 Report

Hummm…these days I am more worried about continuing to be abe to have the tests donee AT ALL. If my heath insurance is taken away, i am screwed.

TBH I worry more about THAT right now than my labs. i worry about being able to have the labs done AT ALL.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2017-03-16 23:29:39 -0500 Report

Hi Kalisiin, nice to see you. It's been awhile. I understand your concern. Lots of people are worried about what's gong to happen with their health insurance as we prepare for upcoming changes. I am hoping for the best for you, my friend.

WASHED OUT 2017-03-16 20:39:31 -0500 Report

Millions of people are worried with you, I know that doesn't make it any easier but you are not alone. They are going to kill a lot of people by neglecting to see the truth so some rich person can get a greater tax break. I don't like going political but it sure is hard to ignore what this controlling party is doing.

robertoj 2017-03-14 21:56:13 -0500 Report

I get labs on a weekly basis and I begin to receive results shortly after. I usually get the results of tests other than blood tests within a week.
I don't worry about the results because they are usually negative or pretty much as expected. When I get bad news (some are real whoppers) it's almost always out of the blue and I wouldn't have been able to guess anyway.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2017-03-16 23:28:26 -0500 Report

Roberto, glad to hear your results are pretty consistent. And good point. We don't have control over everything, so we just have to roll with the punches as they come at us.

GabbyPA 2017-03-14 17:43:52 -0500 Report

My labs are usually a week or two before my doctor visit, and I have not been tested for anything that really has me worried yet, so I don't tend to stress out. But I am sure when some things start to pop up, I will have my chance.

I do sometimes worry before the test and it may make me want to stay "in the dark" instead of getting the test done, but so far, I have not given into that much except the time when I pretty much gave up and didn't care.

I can say that I do often feel a great relief when the tests come back and are good.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2017-03-15 14:35:06 -0500 Report

Gabby, thanks for checking in. I appreciate your honesty. I think we have all been in the position of wanting to avoid a medical test out of concern for receiving results we don't want to deal with. As they say, ignorance is bliss. But of course we know it isn't. You are in good company on that one, I am included. As they always say, it is better to know than not know. And that sigh of relief when the test results are good is always welcome.

Stuart1966 2017-03-14 17:02:18 -0500 Report

When I can afford to get any tests "they desire" I have a choice. Insurance covers a grand total of 10 perscriptions PER year. Two kinds of insulin every month, my scripts are totally done in June. After that too bad. My so called insurance prevents getting any assistance from the insulin or test strip companies. Stressed awaiting "future test" results… naah, merely grim and resolved.

How do you avoid this stress in combats you do not win…?

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2017-03-15 14:30:35 -0500 Report

Hey Stuart. Wow, that is quite a restriction on your prescription plan. I am sorry to hear that. I can see where that would leave you in the position of having to do a lot of planning and make some difficult choices as well. Grim and resolved makes a lot of sense. I suspect it takes an attitude of acceptance and being as proactive as possible, to be as resourceful and cautious as possible. Sorry to hear you have to deal with this.

w8chd 2017-03-14 19:41:02 -0500 Report

I don't have any insurance so that isn't a problem for me. Those companies can be a pain that's for sure.

sweetslover 2017-03-14 14:56:46 -0500 Report

I no longer stress over my A1c because I know I have it under control. I do, however, need to satisfy my curiosity and frequently go to the lab and get my results before I see the doctor. I really like doing this because I can then be prepared with questions that I want him to clarify.
I do stress over my kidney function tests. I know there is nothing I can do to change the test results, but I just have to know what is happening. I can accept the results, good or bad, but I feel like I have some control over what is happening if I have the most recent information.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2017-03-15 14:28:00 -0500 Report

Hey sweetslover, glad to hear your A1c is under control. That's excellent. And a great idea to get the results before you see the doctor, and have your questions prepared. That's being an empowered patient. I understand the concerns about the kidney tests, you are certainly not alone in that. A good thing to be well informed about, for sure.

haoleboy 2017-03-14 15:16:23 -0500 Report

I think it is so important to get lab results before seeing the doctor … how else can you have an intelligent discussion, or voice any concerns???

w8chd 2017-03-14 17:09:45 -0500 Report

That is a good idea. In my experience it's was usually done at the end of a visit. The results would come in the mail about a week later with a attached note highlighting the parts she wanted to complain about. Then it would have to wait five or six months till I went in again. So yes, having them in hand when you go in would be a plus.

Just Joyce
Just Joyce 2017-03-14 13:14:35 -0500 Report

Hi Dr. Gary,

I normally don't stress out over simple lab test. It is what it is and you can't go back and change the results.

For the past 3 weeks I have been having really bad dizzy spells. When the chest pain started, I called my doctor. One of my medications causes dizziness and we stopped it. He had me wait 24 hours to make sure the medication was out of my system and come see him Friday morning. I was really dizzy and my chest pain was bad when I walked into his office.

After they took my BP and Pulse, he told me my heart was racing but it wasn't bad and did an EKG. Since he didn't have any patients until after lunch we sat in the exam room and talked for about 45 minutes then he had another EKG done. It was fine and my heart was no longer racing.

While I was checking out and waiting to see someone who called me from the office, he walked over and whispered do you have my personal cell number. I shook my head no and he gave it to me.

I saw him leave the office. After I left I went into Rite Aid and he was waiting to check out. He stood there while I was checking out talking to me. We walked out together and he asked me how i was getting home. I said I live 4 blocks away so I will walk. He made me promise to send him a text 30 mins after I got home. I did and he said check your pulse for me. It was racing. He called me and said good bye. I said I am home where am I going. He said to the ER as soon as I can get through to 911. The line was busy. I called the police station and the Captain sent an officer to get me to the hospital.

Here is where it went from bad to worse. The ER doc ordered a chest xray and blood drawn to check heart enzymes. they hooked me to a monitor and did an EKG. The nurse told me I was being admitted. I asked why he said the doctor would be in to tell me.

They sent me to my room and the nurse gave me two baby aspirin. Saturday morning they did another chest x-ray, a CT scan several EKG's and another CT scan with the dye. Saturday evening 2 hours after the last CT scan they discharged me. The nurse asked me if the doctor had come in and talked to me. I said no. She was surprised and said he left. I had no idea what those test results were until I saw the Cardiologist yesterday morning. He said every thing was negative and was pissed because they discharged a patient with chest pain and dizziness and never consulted a Cardiologist and he was filing a formal complaint.

I go to have a Cardiac Catherization done Thursday morning and he will give me the results. In the mean time my wonderful PCP had left the health center but told me by phone that he is continuing to monitor me through the Cardiologist and will keep me informed.

This is the only time I worried about test results that I didn't get.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2017-03-15 14:25:57 -0500 Report

Hey Joyce, thanks for sharing this story. Really fascinating. What an amazing PCP you have. Wonderful for sure! It is so encouraging to hear about doctors who are really willing to go the extra mile to take good care of their patients. That is quite a situation at the hospital, another example of how patient care can slip through the cracks. When that happens, patients are at risk. And heart issues are definitely worthy of attention and follow-up. You have a great healthcare team, between your PCP and your cardio. That's excellent. Thanks again for sharing this.

haoleboy 2017-03-14 12:55:25 -0500 Report

yes … I stress a bit while waiting for results.
in that my "treatment" for my various issues is largely self-directed I tend to look at those results as either a vindication or an indictment of my choices … so it is personal.
I tend to fast for longer periods and meditate more often during the "waiting period".
"You take it on faith, you take it to the heart, The waiting is the hardest part" ~ Tom Petty

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2017-03-15 14:18:19 -0500 Report

Hey Steve, nice to see you. I see your point here, test results can feel like going before a jury, with you being either convicted or exonerated. It's hard not to take the results personally, though of course we have more control over some results than others. I know you know all about that, given what you have dealt with. That's a good way to get through the waiting period, a spiritual approach. Thanks for the quote, I am a Tom Petty fan too.

w8chd 2017-03-14 12:37:59 -0500 Report

I'll have to say waiting for lab results isn't something I task over. They are what they are. Worrying about it won't change anything. The only part that interests me at all is the A1C. But even that isn't something I lose any sleep over. So no, I don't stress out over them at all.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2017-03-15 14:14:02 -0500 Report

Glad to hear that! If you can keep the worrying in it's place, you can also keep your stress level down.

suecsdy 2017-03-14 11:47:56 -0500 Report

Most of my lab results these days aren't stress making, with one exception..the kidney results. My cholesterol has been excellent for some time now, I feel like I have a good handle on diabetes, but I stress every time over whether my kidneys will maintain at stage 3 or decline. That is the one that scares me the most. I try not to hold my breath waiting. I'm always expecting to hear that it's worse; I don't know why. One of the frustrating parts is that even though I have access to all the patient portals, the tests don't always post. Sometimes they won't post til after I've seen the Dr and one hasn't posted any of my results since sometime in 2015..No one can tell me why. When I do stress, I usually come up with the worst possible scenario and it's never as bad as my imagination can make it, at least not yet. I definitely had to learn how to just let go and not think about it or I'd have to be living on tranquilizers. I know I'm doing the best that I can(mostly) and if something comes up I have an excellent team of Drs to help me with a solution. I guess sometimes you just have to have faith. When I stress over anything, it helps to keep my hands busy with a yarn project or a sewing project…something I have to pay attention to if I want it to look good when I finish.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2017-03-15 14:13:09 -0500 Report

Hey suecsdy, nice to see you. I can understand why the kidney tests would be especially stressful. A lot is at stake with those results. Staying hopeful for you! I agree, it's frustrating when you know results are available and you can't get to them. Our minds have a way of sending those scary thoughts and worst case scenarios our way, good idea to just let them go. Thoughts are automatic, but we don't have to chase after them. Having a good team in place helps a lot. Keep up those positive distractions, a great way to cope!

ConnieMarie 2017-03-14 11:10:23 -0500 Report

A1C labs don't stress me out - when I was waiting on pathology reports from a biopsy - that stressed me out. End of July 2015 I started the journey with breast cancer & February 2017 marked 1 year in remission.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2017-03-15 13:56:53 -0500 Report

Hey ConnieMarie, thanks for sharing this. I see your point, that's for sure. The ultimate scary test. So to hear you are in remission, that's great news Congratulations, my friend! :))

elizag1 2017-03-14 10:29:01 -0500 Report

I think if I have been watching what I eat and taking my medication…I should be ok.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2017-03-14 17:23:32 -0500 Report

Hey elizag! It has been a long time since we have been in touch. That's great, staying on top of things can help keep the stress about test results down.