Did you know that about 12.5% of the world’s population has claustrophobia or an intense fear of tight spaces (clevelandclinic.org)? Common triggers include being in tunnels, elevators, caves, small cars, and undergoing an MRI procedure. Although it is perfectly safe, MRI claustrophobia can be hard to overcome. It can also trigger panic attacks.
To manage your feelings of claustrophobia during the MRI appointment, the first step is to understand how a traditional MRI machine works. It also helps to have a close friend or family member with you. Using noise-canceling headphones, wearing comfortable clothes, and saying a short prayer can also do wonders.
What is an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan?
According to mayoclinic.org, MRI is a medical imaging technique. It uses a magnetic field and computer-generated radio waves to create detailed images of the organs and tissues in your body.
Most MRI machines are large, tube-shaped magnets in which you lie inside. It is a painless procedure that lasts 15 to 90 minutes. The duration depends on the size of the scanned area and the number of images taken.
What is its purpose?
An MRI test is a non-invasive way for your doctor to examine your organs, soft tissue, and skeletal system. It produces high-resolution images of the inside of the body that help diagnose various problems.
Here is a list of tips to reduce anxiety during an MRI appointment
1. Learn about the machine and the process
Anxiety can make you overthink a situation, making things worse than they are. Anxious patients also know better than most that it’s hard to just “let go” of worries. So, the first step to managing your MRI anxiety is to educate yourself.
Learn about the procedure and how an MRI works. An MRI machine makes loud noises which can alarm you if you are not prepared.
Also, speak to your MRI technologist in advance so that they can answer any questions you have.
2. Ask a close friend or trusted family member to be with you
If it is allowed, you should ask someone you trust to be your emotional support when you have the MRI scan.
The person can help distract and calm you down before the appointment. And during the appointment, you will feel better knowing that there is someone you trust close by. Some centers might even allow them to be nearby with you in the MRI exam room.
3. Take time to relax and say a short prayer
Taking deep breaths and saying a short prayer before the scan begins is one of the best ways to help calm down. Putting your trust in the Lord and knowing that he is always there to protect us is reassuring.
During such times, you can take comfort in what Psalm 37:5 says. “Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you”. Visualize your happy place in your mind and have faith in God. Everything will work out.
4. Use noise-canceling headphones and a sleeping mask during the appointment
Headphones and a sleep mask or eye mask can be very useful for claustrophobic patients to manage their anxiety. They can provide a distraction from thinking about the enclosed space they are in.
Earphones will also allow technicians to play music to help soothe the patient. Or you could even listen to your favorite music.
5. Wear comfortable clothes in the MRI room
Some centers might give you a hospital gown to wear. If not, put on some comfortable clothes such as sweats or yoga pants. However, you cannot wear any type of clothing with metal. You will also have to remove all jewelry and piercings.
You can also ask for pillows and blankets to be more comfortable.
6. Use the Patient Comfort Alert System if you are uncomfortable
The MRI technologist will give you a squeezing bulb alarm or call button to alert them in case you feel uncomfortable. This will remind you that you are safe and can pause the procedure at any time.
You can also talk to the MRI technicians anytime during the scan. So, feel confident and safe even in a small space.
7. Avoid caffeine and alcohol before an upcoming MRI appointment
Both caffeine and alcohol are stimulants. Caffeine can cause the body to release adrenaline. On the other hand, alcohol is a depressant that can interfere with the brain’s ability to regulate emotions. They can lead to increased anxiety; so it’s best to avoid them.
8. Talk to your doctor about taking anxiety medications
If you suffer from severe anxiety, you can talk to your doctor about taking an anti-anxiety medication or a mild sedative beforehand. However, this depends on your medical conditions and you should always consult medical professionals before taking them.
9. An alternate MRI procedure – 3T MRI
Apart from the traditional MRI, you could also opt for a 3T MRI if it is available. According to mana.md 3T MRI is the fastest MRI technology available.
3T MRI or 3 Tesla MRI uses very powerful magnets that produce a 3-tesla magnetic field. Its magnetic field is twice as powerful as the fields used in conventional high-field MRI scanners. This results in a clearer and more complete image with better image quality.
This MRI machine is also more spacious. Overall, it can help patients with claustrophobic anxiety to have a better chance of handling this anxiety-inducing experience. 3T MRI exams can also be up to 100 times faster than standard MRI exams.
10. Overall perspective of reality
From personal experience, I can tell you that It was a mind over matter challenge for myself. I had to tell my self, that is only 20 mins of my life. My entire life awaits on the other side. It’s not as if I am going to die or never recover from this.
I also asked myself — what can this machine do to me? It can’t harm me. It really can’t.
So I focused my mind through the entire procedure on the fact that this too shall pass. And that I have 100x more harder things. This is only 20 mins or so and I WILL get through this.
I also told myself, that this is actually great for my doctors to take a look at my spine and help me recover better and faster.
I settled in the end knowin this was actually good for me and it was just the next 20-30 mins and my entire life awaited on the other side.
I had to dive deep and examine my fears and answer each one of them truthfully.
I didn’t tell myself a single lie! And it all worked fine. Praise God for that!
Feeling fear or anxiety over a medical procedure is very common and perfectly understandable. As you prepare for your scan, the most important thing to remember is that you are not alone. Not only do you have your family and friends, but you also have the Lord watching over you.
Here are a couple of Bible verses that you can keep in mind to help your anxiety.
Psalm 34:17 “The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles”. Let this verse remind you that God always hears your prayers. So, no matter how big or small your problems are, you can always turn to him and he will not let you down.
Deuteronomy 3:22 “Do not be afraid of them; the Lord your God himself will fight for you”. With God on your side, what do you have to fear? As long as you have faith and belief, your anxiety will not win.
Now go, get that MRI done and move forward in strength. Nothing can separate you from the love of God!