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How to Prepare for Common Medical Screening Tests Posted: March 8th, 2010

By Jim Sloan

Jim Sloan is a freelance writer in Reno, Nev.

Eating, drinking, and even exercise can skew your medical screening results.

Preparation Is Key for Accurate Medical Screening Exams

Many doctors recommend that their patients undergo screening tests to detect diseases in their early stages, when the ailments are easier to treat and cure. Sometimes the tests are recommended if your family has a history of a particular disease, and other times the tests are recommended when you reach a certain age.

There are also a number of steps you can take to make sure you get accurate results when it comes time for a screening test.
Here are recommendations on how to get the best results from common preventive tests.

Blood Pressure Check

Don't smoke, exercise, or drink caffeinated beverages before the appointment. Make sure you sit with your feet flat on the floor for at least five minutes before the test. When taking the test, try to rest your arm on a table at heart level when the reading is being taken. Remain calm and quiet during the exam. If your test is abnormal in any way, the doctor or nurse should take the test three times -- once in each arm and then a third time in the arm with the highest reading.

Blood Sugar Test and Lipid Profile

Take only essential prescription medication for at least nine to 12 hours before the test, and don't eat or drink anything besides water during that same period. It's also a good idea to skip your workout during the 24 hours prior to the test; exercise might elevate your HDL cholesterol levels.


The preparation may be the toughest part of the procedure. Patients are asked to fast the day before the procedure and are prescribed a solution to be taken the night before, which causes intense and frequent diarrhea. You should also stop taking iron supplements a week before the colonoscopy and avoid eating small nuts. Avoid ibuprofen for a week because it can cause gastrointestinal bleeding.

Pap Smear

Never schedule a pap smear during menstruation; wait until at least a week afterward. Avoid sexual intercourse or vaginal creams for 24 hours prior to the test. Women should also not douche for several days prior to the test. Avoid using talc in the vaginal area prior to the test and reschedule if you have a yeast or bladder infection.


Although the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says women may not need mammograms as early or as often as some experts have previously recommended, it is important that you are properly prepared when you do get one. Don't schedule a mammogram during the week before menstruation, when your breasts might be swollen or tender. Never wear deodorant or talc on the day of your exam because flecks in some powders look like micro calcifications on an X-ray image. Wear a two-piece outfit with a blouse that buttons down the front.

PSA Test for Prostate Cancer

Wait a month after being treated for a urinary infection or inflamed prostate. Avoid sex a day or two prior to your exam; an ejaculation might cause your PSA level to be higher than normal. Have your PSA test blood drawn prior to any digital rectal exam if one is scheduled. Inform your doctor about any pain relievers or herbs you're taking that might falsely lower the PSA reading. The PSA blood test, which measures the level of prostate specific antigen in your blood, is not recommended in men older than 75 or have a life expectancy of less than 10 years. Also, other men should weigh the benefit of the test against the risk of false alarms that can lead to unnecessary treatment.

Bone Density Test

These tests are fast and painless, and very little preparation is needed. Inform your doctor of any recent oral contrast or nuclear medicine test because they require an injection of radioactive tracers that can interfere with your bone density results. Avoid taking any calcium supplements for two days prior to the test and don't take any osteoporosis medicine the day of your test. Avoid wearing clothing with zippers or buttons on the day of the screening.

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Exam

If you are 65 to 75 years old and have smoked 100 or more cigarettes during your lifetime, you should be screened for abdominal aortic aneurysm -- an abnormally large or swollen blood vessel in your abdomen. If you're having an abdominal ultrasound, you shouldn't eat or drink anything for nine to 12 hours before your exam. Find out prior to the exam if anyone in your family ever suffered from the condition; the doctor will want to know.

Recommendation for Any Screening

Regardless of the test you're getting, reschedule if you feel you're not ready for any reason. A cold, a mild case of the flu, or even unusual stress can affect your results and cause a false reading - which could lead to unnecessary treatment. Remember that your health insurance usually covers preventive tests ordered by your doctor.

Jim Sloan