5 Steps to Calm MRI Claustrophobia

MRI Clautrophobia smiling peopleJust the thought of being in a MRI machine can send your anxiety level through the roof. Here are 5 ways to relieve the stress before and during an MRI.

1. Consider Open MRI

Getting an Open MRI is a wonderful option if you’re worried about going into a small MRI tube. For some open MRI machines, you’ll lay on the table and be slid under the scanner. Other options include sitting or standing up machines. Ask the doctor about how to schedule your scan on an open MRI machine.

2. Talk with the Doctor

The very first thing you need to do if you suffer from claustrophobia and need an MRI is to tell your doctor. Do not be embarrassed about it. You do not have to be brave for anyone. Be open and honest with your doctor and let them help you with your fears. Talk with the technician operating the MRI machine before the day of your appointment. Ask them about what methods they have to communicate with you once you’re inside the MRI machine. Some machines have a panic button or buzzer. Other machines don’t — “wiggle your toes if there’s a problem!” for example. If your machine doesn’t have a good communication system, ask to schedule your scan on a machine that does!

3. Consider Medication

Your doctor may prescribe medication to help you get through your test. No medication will cure claustrophobia, but there are many that will take the edge off of anxiety levels and that will allow you time to have the MRI completed. There is a risk with using medications, though, so be sure you understand what side effects medications can have.  You also need to be realistic.  If your claustrophobia is extreme, medications may not work for you.  If you take medication before the test, you must tell the person performing the test and have someone to drive you to and from the testing facility. Some people try natural herbal remedies to ease their anxiety. People have been using herbs for centuries but you still need to do research to see what is available and what side effects could occur. Passionflower and kava are two possibilities you can try. Most herbs have few side effects, but be sure you talk to your doctor before taking any before your MRI. Also, you will need to tell the technician when you arrive for your MRI.

4. Bring Your Friend Along

If it will help, you may have a friend drive you to the test, but they cannot come into the MRI room with you, unless you are having an open MRI done.  Having a friend keep you company in the waiting room might be a good idea, though, so you will have something to distract you from the upcoming test. Do not spend the day worrying about what might happen. Plan something you enjoy and do your best to not think about the MRI.  Pick up a good book or your favorite hobby.

5. Listen to Your Music

During many MRIs now, you can wear headphones to help block the noise and listen to music. Before the day of your appointment, ask your doctor or the technician about this. Sometimes you can bring your iPhone or iPod and the technician will play your playlist!

Just because you suffer from claustrophobia does not mean you cannot have an MRI done.  Try any of these relaxation techniques and be sure to tell your doctor your concerns.

Tito Jankowski lives in San Francisco. Find him on Twitter and . His latest direction is learning about health and blogging about MRI scans. He's quite the biotech explorer, including designing lab equipment like a blue light transilluminator and PCR machines, and co-founding BioCurious, the largest hackerspace for biotech.

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