Medical waiting periods: imminence, emotions and coping

Womens Health (Lond). 2010 Jan;6(1):59-69. doi: 10.2217/whe.09.79.


The diagnosis and treatment of various medical conditions requires patients to wait for results that are potentially threatening to their wellbeing (e.g., breast biopsy results, pregnancy test results after fertility treatment and genetic screening outcomes). Little research has been carried out to document the psychological processes that unfold during such waiting periods. The aim of the present study was to document the course of anxiety, depression, positive affect and coping during the waiting period before a pregnancy test result in fertility treatment. Using a daily record-keeping chart designed for fertility treatment, 61 women undergoing IVF were monitored daily for emotional reactions (e.g., anxiety, depression and positive affect) and coping during 7 days of active treatment (stimulation), 7 days of waiting to find out whether a pregnancy was achieved (waiting) and 4 days of reacting to the pregnancy test results (outcome). The stimulation stage of treatment was characterized by positive affect with a lesser degree of anxiety, whereas the predominant emotions in the waiting stage were a combination of positive affect and anxiety symptoms versus depression. From the pregnancy test day onwards, the predominant emotion was depression. There was a significant increase in coping activity between the stimulation and waiting stages, with variable effects across coping strategies. It was concluded that whilst medical waiting periods have a clearly defined emotional trajectory, the coping pattern is less differentiated. This may explain why waiting for medical test results is so demanding. Healthcare professionals can assist their patients by facilitating coping strategies that better fit the demands of the waiting period and by offering support once outcomes are known.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / epidemiology*
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / psychology
  • Female
  • Fertilization in Vitro
  • Humans
  • Infertility / drug therapy
  • Infertility / psychology*
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Medical Records
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Tests / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • Urban Population
  • Young Adult