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MRI scans for those who are worried about claustrophobia

If you think you may be claustrophobic during your MRI scan you may find the following information useful.

Claustrophobia is defined as an irrational fear of confined spaces which affects between 10% and 30% of the population. Often when people are asked to describe MRI, they would use at least one of the following terms ‘tunnel’, ‘dark’, ‘claustrophobic’ but remember that these descriptions are frequently based on an experience they had or heard about in the past. Modern scanners have evolved significantly in recent years.
Please note:

  • The scanner is not closed at either end
  • It is not dark inside the scanner
  • You can have a relative or friend stay with you if this helps
  • You don’t always need to have your head inside the scanner – If your examination is anything between hips and feet, you will go in feet first and it is unlikely that your head will be inside the scanner.

During your procedure

Remember that most patients feel anxious before their MRI scan. Feelings of apprehension are perfectly normal but remember that most people can tolerate MRI even if they don’t like it. If you know that you will be claustrophobic during your scan, you may wish to try one or more of the following suggestions:

  • Listen to music
    – You will be given headphones as the scan is very noisy and we can play a CD for you during your scan. Note that very quiet relaxing music will be difficult to hear above the sound of the scanner.
  • You are in control
    – Remember that no-one will force you into the scanner. You can ask for a trial run first without any earphones or equipment over you just to see what it is like in the scanner. During your scan, you will be given a buzzer to hold so that if you want to stop at any point, you can alert the radiographer who will stop and get you out of the scanner.
  • Relaxation techniques
    – Plan ahead so that you can imagine a favourite beach or some soothing place in your life, then during your scan take your mind to this place and imagine every tiny detail of it whilst breathing slowly in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  • Cover your eyes
    – Not being able to see your surroundings helps diminish feelings of claustrophobia. We can usually offer you a blindfold or you may prefer a damp washcloth over your eyes to help keep you cool as well.
  • Bring a friend or relative
    – Whilst we don’t routinely invite friends or relatives into the scan room with you, however, it is usually possible if this will help you complete your scan. If possible, please copy the safety questionnaire you received with your appointment letter as we need to be sure that it is safe for your friend/relative to accompany you. Please advise them not to bring any valuables with them.
  • Sedation
    – Your GP may prescribe a sedative (usually diazepam) to be taken on the day of the scan. This will not send you to sleep but will take the edge of the anxiety and may be enough to get you through the scan especially if combined with one of the other techniques described here. Remember that you won’t be able to drive yourself home after you have taken a sedative.