How to Deal With Bad Medical News

So, you just received some bad medical news, and you are not sure how to deal with it. Maybe you were told you have some dreaded disease, or maybe you were given some sad news and don't understand how it may affect you. You may be feeling depressed, unsure what to do. In any case, here are some tips that may help you deal with bad medical news.


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    Be prepared for potential bad news. If you have not already received the bad medical news, but suspect you will (e.g. your doctors calls you to schedule an appointment to go over some test results that you think will be bad news), try to prepare for it emotionally. Anticipate the worst news possible, so you would not be shell-shocked upon actually receiving bad news. Bring a family member or close friend with you to the appointment: this will not only help provide you support at the moment when you need it most, but will also help clarify the bad news and write things down, as you could become shocked upon getting the bad medical news and not be able to ask appropriate questions or comprehend any explanations that follow.
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    Clarify what exactly the bad medical news is and how it will affect you. This may take time and often even more than one meeting to accomplish, as shock and denial is frequently the first emotional response to very bad news. Most people, upon receiving the bad news, become flooded with emotions, making it difficult to comprehend any discussion that follows. If that is the case, it is often helpful to ask the doctor to give you written materials about the condition and its treatment so you can go home and read more about it later in a better state of mind.
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    Find out all about your condition from reliable sources. Search for your condition on the internet, find books in the library, read journals and articles that discuss this condition. Humans tend to fear the unknown. The more you know about the condition, the more comfortable you will be and be prepared to deal with its ramifications. Try to keep in mind that the information posted on the internet cause even more fear,you might want to avoid the internet and talk to a local support group. They can recommend which sites for good information and which sites to avoid.
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    Try to stay calm. Excessive worry will not help. Don't overreact to bad medical news. Understand that one cannot change what has already happened, but only how one responds to it. Try to keep your cool to focus on its solutions.
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    Get as much support as you can, immediately. Don't say I'll try to deal with it myself, and if I need help I'll get it later. Later may be too late. Tell it immediately to all your loved ones and friends who will listen to you. They may be able to offer you helpful insights on how to deal with condition. And the process of opening up to others is emotionally healing by itself.
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    Be aware of the common K├╝bler-Ross grief stages to receiving bad news: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Grieving, Acceptance. Most people go through these stages, though not necessarily in this order, and often may experience more than one stage at a time. Seek professional help (e.g. counseling, psychiatrist) if necessary.
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    Don't dwell too much on the bad medical news. Exercise, spend time with others, do fun things, and think happy thoughts. Smile. Meditate. Pray (if you are religious). Try to develop and maintain a positive attitude always, and not let bad medical news prevent you from living your normal life and carrying out your daily duties.
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    Be prepared for the worst outcomes. If you are given a limited life expectancy based on the disease prognosis, plan ahead to accomplish what you need to do before your time comes to leave the world. (Look into palliative care; who can not only make the transition more comfortable but may improve the quality of life as well.) Maybe it's a book you need to finish writing, maybe it's an old acquaintance you need to forgive, or maybe it's some unfinished project you need to fulfill. In any case, make sure these things get done while you can. Have a living will or durable power of attorney if applicable.


  • Get as much support as possible.
  • Get all the facts you can.
  • Open up to others.
  • Be prepared to deal with worst possible outcomes resulting from the bad medical news.
  • View things in a positive light.
  • Remain calm.
  • Don't overreact.
  • Anticipate bad news.


  • Don't try to cope with your emotions by drinking or drugs. That will only make things worse.

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Categories: Conditions and Treatments | Health Care and Medical Information