Do you know your risk for cancer?Read More

Facing Your Fears: A Guide to Coping with MRI Claustrophobia

how to overcome mri claustrophobia

Editor’s note: This blog post was medically reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD and the Ezra MRI specialist team.


Some individuals may experience magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) claustrophobia before and during MR imaging.

Being in the confined space of an MRI scanner for an extended period of time can be a scary and overwhelming experience for certain people. 

There are, however, many ways to manage fears and anxieties related to the enclosed spaces of MRI scans. These methods empower individuals to take control of their health and feel confident to seek the medical care they need, despite their fears.

In this article, we explain what MRI claustrophobia is, proven methods to alleviate it, and Ezra’s approach to helping you deal with MRI claustrophobia.

Due to the type of MRI machine used and the quality of care included, the Ezra full-body scan is the ideal MRI scan option for those with MRI claustrophobia.

Table of Contents

What is MRI Claustrophobia and How Common is It?

Claustrophobia is defined as the fear of confined spaces. According to the National Library of Medicine, claustrophobia is estimated to affect 12.5% of the population. 

A traditional closed MRI unit is a long, skinny bore that is 60 cm wide (23.6 in). Because this type of MRI is small, claustrophobic patients will likely struggle to be calm and still during the procedure. The modern MRI scanners that our facilities use at Ezra are short and wide (70 cm). 

The anatomical area where a person may feel really close to the inside walls of the MRI scanner is the shoulders. The average shoulder width is 41 cm for men and 36 cm for women. 

Traditional MRI scanners will leave only 9 to 24 cm or about 3 to 5 inches on each side of the shoulder, which is not a lot of space.

Meanwhile, the newer scanners like what’s used at Ezra facilities can give you an extra 2 inches on each side.

Did you know?

The modern MRI scanners that our facilities use at Ezra are short and wide (70 cm). This gives you an extra 2 inches on each side compared to traditional MRI scanners.

What Are Some Proven Methods to Alleviate MRI Claustrophobia?

Experts agree that there are certain steps you can take to make your MRI scan experience as comfortable as possible despite claustrophobia. 

The University of Virginia Health System’s radiology team recommends the following actionable steps to help alleviate any claustrophobia-related anxieties during your MRI scan. We’ve also added examples for each step as recommended by the Ezra MRI specialist team.

1. Learn About the Procedure

Be fully informed about what to expect during your exam, including the machine, its noises, and exam procedures.

The video below shows what happens during an MRI examination

2. Talk to Your Tech

Talk to your MRI technologist during the exam if you feel discomfort, and ask for updates if it helps you.

You can also call the facility ahead of time and ask to speak with the MRI technologist if you have any questions about the procedure. 

3. Focus on Breathing

Meditation and other mindfulness techniques can help soothe you and calm you down during the exam.

The video below shows a simple and easy to remember breathing technique.

4. Count

Slow, monotonous counting can be soothing and help the time pass by more quickly. For example, count to 20 and tap your pinky finger. Repeat this and take turns tapping a different finger each time (this may not be ideal for hand scans). 

Another example is counting the number of things to do, like a count of things to do when you get out of the scanner, things you want to do over the weekend, or a count of items you need to pick up at the grocery store.

5. Cover Your Face

Covering your face with a towel or similar item can help you imagine you’re at home and feel less trapped. 

In some facilities, they may provide an eye mask or a small towel that they can provide to place over your eyes. Don’t hesitate to ask the technologist on site. 

6. Go to Your Happy Place

Thinking about your “happy place” or a good memory can keep your mind off of the present moment.

7. Listen to Music

Listening to your favorite music allows you to distract yourself from the scan and partake in something more enjoyable.

“It’s worth noting that podcasts are difficult to hear because the machine is very loud. Classical music can be challenging to listen to if you’re unfamiliar with the genre.   

You should request a genre you are most familiar with so that when the music is difficult to hear, you are still familiar with the song to keep your mind busy,” says Annie Nguyen, MRI specialist at Ezra.

“It’s worth noting that podcasts are difficult to hear because the machine is very loud. Classical music can be challenging to listen to if you’re unfamiliar with the genre.   

You should request a genre you are most familiar with so that when the music is difficult to hear, you are still familiar with the song to keep your mind busy.” 

8. Bring Support

Bringing a family member or friend can make you feel more at ease and comfortable during the exam.

According to Samantha Kennedy, MRI specialist at Ezra, family members and friends may not be allowed to be with you during the scan in some facilities. It is best to call the facility and check if you can have a support person in the MRI room.

Even if the facility says yes, that person will need to be screened for MRI safety, and the technologist may or may not permit the support person. At Ezra, our Care Advisors can call our partner facility for you and let them know in advance. 

Another alternative is to wear your favorite item (with no metal), like your favorite socks. Sometimes, people like to wear a plastic bracelet in one hand for comfort.

9. Try Your Own Technique

If the above methods don’t sound like they would work for you, feel free to try your own technique. If you have other ideas, it’s always worth talking to your doctor to see if that method is a possibility.

10. Remind Yourself Who’s in Control

Assure yourself that you and you alone are in control of the exam. The MRI technologists are there for you and will do anything to make the MRI scan experience as comfortable as possible.

How Does Ezra Ease MRI Claustrophobia?

Ezra offers whole-body MRIs with a focus on patient comfort and well-being. Here are the different ways that we, at Ezra, can help you ease MRI claustrophobia and experience a more comfortable scan: 

  1. Our 3T wide-bore MRIs offer a less claustrophobic experience
  2. Person-centered care focused on you
  3. Experienced and friendly MRI technologists and Care Advisors 

Our 3T Wide-Bore MRIs Offer a Less Claustrophobic Experience

For many claustrophobic patients, the thought of having an MRI brings forth feelings of dread. They may worry about the dimensions of the machine’s cylinder and whether they will fit. Individuals with these concerns can opt for other types of MRIs such as open MRIs

The major disadvantages of open MRIs, however, include:

  • Lower magnetic field strength
  • Produce poorer quality images than most closed MRIs
  • May require longer examination times

Fortunately, another option exists that offers a less claustrophobic experience, more effective performance, and shorter completion time. These machines are called 3T wide-bore MRIs.

All Ezra partner facilities offer 3T wide-bore scanners with up-to-date software upgrades. Compared to traditional MRI scanners, they provide more room and comfort, along with the highest image quality. 

All Ezra partner facilities offer 3T wide-bore scanners with up-to-date software upgrades. Compared to traditional MRI scanners, they provide more room and comfort, along with the highest image quality. 

Person-Centered Care Focused on You

Considerations are made and explained by professional technologists to ensure your time in the MRI machine is as comfortable as possible. At all Ezra locations, certain measures are taken to help those who expect to feel claustrophobic in the MRI machine. 

For example, all Ezra MRI machines are fully lit, ventilated, and open at both ends to help lower anxieties. Additionally, your MRI technologist will see you and be in contact with you at all times during the scan.

All Ezra MRI machines are fully lit, ventilated, and open at both ends to help lower anxieties. Additionally, your MRI technologist will see you and be in contact with you at all times during the scan.  

Experienced and Friendly Technologists

Ezra partners with expert radiology clinics to ensure your scans are professionally done and offer the best care.

While you may feel like you’re all alone during the MRI scan, the compassionate staff at the facility will be with you just one room away. They’ll guide you through the scanning process, provide reassurance, and answer any questions you may have during the scan.

Keep Calm During Your Next MRI Scan by Knowing What to Expect

keep calm during your next mri scan

Being fully informed about what to expect before, during, and after your MRI exam can give you confidence and peace of mind before your appointment. 

The more educated you are on the details of the exam, the less likely you are to be negatively affected by something during the scan. It’s important to ask your medical provider questions – they will be happy to inform you on anything you’re curious about.

Once you book an MRI exam, it’s important to review any scan prep instructions to best prepare for your scan.

Before Your MRI Appointment

Once you book an MRI exam, it’s important to review any scan prep instructions to best prepare for your scan. These may include any or all of the following:

  • Rules about eating and drinking on the day of your screening
  • Rules about having caffeinated beverages (e.g. coffee, tea) prior to your scan
  • Rules about having sexual activity before your scan
  • When you should arrive at the imaging center

Learn more: What to Expect Before Your Ezra Screening

During Your MRI Appointment

It’s also crucial to know what to expect during your MRI scan appointment. This information may make you far more comfortable and ease your MRI claustrophobia. 

At Ezra, the following considerations are made and explained to ensure your time in the MRI machine is as comfortable as possible:

Clothing

A cozy gown is given to you upon arrival and a locker to put any personal belongings while you change. If you prefer to wear your own clothes, you can wear a loose-fitting 100% cotton shirt and cotton sweatpants with no metallic components.

However, you must inform your MRI technologist ahead of time. The technologist needs to approve what you’re wearing. 

Noise

The MRI machine is noisy and sounds like a very loud dial-up modem. You will be given earplugs to help minimize the noise. Some machines allow for the use of headphones. If yours does, the technologist will provide those to you and will set up music for you to listen to. Eye masks are also available at most locations upon request.

Coils

Like protective football gear, one is placed snugly around your head and neck:  snug but not too tight to ensure that you do not move your head during the exam. Even if you have a small head, the technologist will provide additional padding around your head to make sure your head is snug into the coil.

One or two more coils are placed on your abdomen and pelvic region. In some Ezra facilities, only one coil is added to cover both the abdomen and pelvis.

Breathing

An automated voice will ask you to take a deep breath and hold it during portions of the scan to prevent movement that could blur the images. After 15 to 20 seconds, it will tell you to breathe normally. If you’re unable to hold your breath for the entire time, exhale and inhale very slowly.

Warmth

The length of time you spend in the machine and the magnets used can make you feel warm during the scan. Since you are trying to lay as still as possible, you may experience muscle twitching – this is normal. You will be given a squeeze ball (sometimes called a call bell), which you can press at any time to notify your tech if you feel discomfort.

Learn more: What to Expect During Your Ezra Screening

After Your MRI Appointment

After your scan is complete, expect to receive a follow-up email within 507 business days with your MRI scan’s findings. It also includes details on how you can get in touch with an Ezra Medical Provider through Zoom to discuss your results.

Learn more: What to Expect After Your Ezra Screening

Overcome Claustrophobia Fears During MRI and Take Control of Your Health

If you experience claustrophobia during an MRI, it’s important to know you are not alone in your struggles. It’s also critical to understand you can seek help and support if you’re finding it difficult to cope with these fears. 

Opting for a wide bore MRI scanner and following the tips we’ve listed above can help alleviate your anxieties about MRIs and make your experience far more comfortable. Empowering yourself to overcome MRI claustrophobia can help you take charge of your health and ensure your well-being.

Book an Ezra full-body MRI scan today here

Do you have a loved one who could benefit from an Ezra scan? Purchase one of our Ezra gift cards here.

You can also schedule a call with our team to learn more. Contact us at (888) 402-3972 or hello@ezra.com