Many people must undergo an MRI scan at some point in their lives for diagnostic purposes. This can be an anxiety-provoking experience for some people, as they might not know what to expect from the process or what its potential outcomes will be. Another common concern during an MRI is the experience of claustrophobia or the fear of closed places.
It is reported that around 15% of people who undergo an MRI scan experience symptoms of claustrophobia. Experience of claustrophobia is common during MRIs, as the procedure requires patients to be confined inside the machine. This can trigger feelings of lack of control, isolation from others, and discomfort due to lack of movement. In some situations, patients might even experience a panic attack. However, there are a few techniques that people can use to manage feelings of anxiety and panic during an MRI scan. They are:
Be Informed About the Procedure
Sometimes, the uncertainty involved in a new situation, especially a medical procedure, can contribute to the symptoms of claustrophobia. To tackle this uncertainty, it is advisable to be aware of what happens during the MRI procedure. Ask the doctor questions about the machine environment, its noise and the overall duration of the procedure. Also, ask them what can be done if one starts feeling unforgettable during the procedure. Just knowing how the machine works and being informed about other aspects might lessen the anxiety for some people.
Be Open with the doctor
Openly discuss with the doctor regarding your claustrophobia and ask if they can do something to make the procedure easier for you.
Focus on your breathing
During anxiety and panic attacks breathing can become shallow, leading to an increased heart rate. In such times, consciously slowing down your breathing can induce a sense of calm. Thus, deep breathing can be helpful both before and during the MRI procedure.
Close your Eyes
Keeping your eyes closed during the MRI procedure can help you reduce symptoms of anxiety or panic as it allows you to constantly stare at the confined space. You can even cover your eyes with a face mask and think of a recent calming, happy memory or your favourite place while closing your eyes.
Ask the doctor if you can wear earplugs or get something to cover your ears during the procedure. Covering your ears allows you to block the loud noise generated by the MRI machine.
Counting numbers can help you calm down by distracting yourself from panic or anxiety-provoking thoughts while undergoing the procedure.
Ask a supportive friend or family member for help
Having someone you trust with you during the MRI can provide emotional support and help distract you from the confined space.
Ask for sedatives
A sedative can help people to calm down and feel relaxed during an MRI procedure. However, sedatives should be considered only when the symptoms of claustrophobia are extreme and cannot be managed by the above-mentioned techniques, as sedatives may cause other health complications. Thus, they should be considered only with the doctor’s recommendation.
If you’re worried about experiencing claustrophobia or panic during an MRI, it’s essential to communicate your feelings with your doctor or the MRI technologist. They can work with you to make the experience as comfortable as possible. Additionally, other techniques, such as being informed, breathing exercises, and seeking support from a friend, can be effective as well.
- Enders, J., Zimmermann, E., Rief, M., Martus, P., Klingebiel, R., Asbach, P., Klessen, C., Diederichs, G., Bengner, T., Teichgräber, U., Hamm, B., & Dewey, M. (2011). Reduction of claustrophobia during magnetic resonance imaging: Methods and design of the “CLAUSTRO” randomized controlled trial. BMC Medical Imaging, 11, 4. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2342-11-4
- How To Manage MRI Claustrophobia, Panic Attacks, and Anxiety. (n.d.). The Recovery Village Drug and Alcohol Rehab. Retrieved December 7, 2023, from https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/mental-health/claustrophobia/claustrophobia-during-scans/
- Kryptonite Solutions. (n.d.). Retrieved December 7, 2023, from https://kryptonite.global/blogs/5-best-ways-to-conquer-claustrophobia-during-mri-scanning/
- Tiwari, A. (2022, October 3). Deal with MRI claustrophobia panic attack. MRI Chandigarh. https://mrichandigarh.com/deal-with-mri-claustrophobia-panic-attack/