Getting a Mammogram with Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Going in Prepared

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When you have chronic pain that can be triggered or intensified by a painful experience, something like a mammogram can be a real concern. But with the right preparation and frame of mind, you may be able to avoid triggering the pain of fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome.

Preparing for a Mammogram

I was really scared about getting my first mammogram. My mom, who withstands pain pretty well, had always talked about how much they hurt.

How would my body, which over-reacts to everything, be able to deal with that? At that time, even a bathrobe tie around my waist could cause searing pain to tear through my abdomen.

I took a few precautionary steps:

  1. I got a ride there and back,
  2. I took a pain killer before leaving home,
  3. I took calming supplements (theanine, DHEA),
  4. I breathed deeply, before and during the test, and told myself repeatedly that it would be OK.

I knew from experience that those things helped in situations that could cause symptom flares. I also knew that going in stressed would create the worst-case scenario and likely leave me in bad shape afterward.

All of those things helped greatly, but I also learned that I was more fearful that I needed to be.

My Mammogram Experience

I expected to have my mother's experience – my breast put on a cold, metal slab and then smashed flat. It wasn't quite like that.

Where I went, the plate they put the breast on is plastic, not metal, and they had thin pads on it that kept the cooler temperature from being a shock.

That was a big relief, since I'm extremely cold sensitive.

I'll be honest – yes, it hurts when they smoosh it. How could it not? But it wasn't unbearable. I'd describe the pain as similar to that of a blood-pressure cuff only a little more achy.

After having each of my breasts squished in several directions, I felt moderately rattled.

I was glad I didn't have to drive myself home, but I wasn't in horrible shape and it didn't cause a flare.

Things to Think About        

During a later mammogram, the tech's hands were like ice. She apologized and kept rubbing them together to warm them up, but her cold hands did set my nerves on edge. In retrospect, I should have asked her to wear surgical gloves.

You do have to stand in a somewhat awkward position that could be difficult. If the position causes you pain or makes you feel unbalanced, let the technician know. You may be able to sit down between images and take a little extra time to recover.

Depending on your symptoms, you may want to ask several questions when you make your appointment, including:

  • Is the surface your breast will be on padded?
  • How long does the test take?
  • Is it possible to be tested while seated?
  • How warm is the facility kept?
  • Will you be in a surgical gown or a bathrobe? (My facility uses fluffy, warm bathrobes.)
  • If you're anxious, can you have someone go in with you for comfort?

If you have a time of day that's generally good for you, you may want to try to schedule your mammogram during that period. Consider your menstrual cycle – are your breasts tender during your period?

If so, be sure to schedule around it.

Fibrocystic Breasts

Some doctors say that fibrocystic breasts are especially common in fibromyalgia. That means the tissue is lumpy or ropy, and that can lead to inconclusive mammogram results.

I have this issue and, one year, I had to go in for a second mammogram so they could get a better look at a particular area. Fortunately, I knew this was a possibility and it didn't get me too nervous.

However, it's hard not to worry and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't at all concerned. The important thing is to know going in that this could happen so you're not left terrified if you get called to come back.

Other Medical Tests

Just about any medical test can have an impact on our symptoms, but forewarned is forearmed! I've learned that the more you know before you go in, the more you can prepare physically and mentally, and that preparation makes all the difference when it comes to avoiding a symptom flare.

Here's information that can help you get through several types of tests and exams:

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