MRI scanners are complex machines capable of looking deep within human tissue to diagnose all sorts of medical conditions. But to do so, patients need to remain still inside a confined space, sometimes for long periods of time.
Our imaging teams from around the UK know that it can be hard to face an MRI scan, especially if you're claustrophobic, afraid of the loud noises, hate staying still or are anxious about the results. So we asked them for their top tips to get through an MRI.
1. Talk to your technician
MRI is a loud scan. But the lines of communication are always open between you and the technician operating the machine. You'll be given a set of headphones via which you can talk and listen to each other. The technician will tell you what's happening and answer your questions, but to stay calm sometimes the conversation needs to go a little deeper.
Use the quieter moments between scanning sequences to brag about your children's exam results or where you're going on holiday next month. If you can't think of anything, talk about the weather or your favourite TV show - anything to take your mind off the scan. If you'd rather not talk, ask the technician to play music through the headphones for you.
2. Choose your tunes
Most MRI's have the ability to play music through the headphones you wear in the scanner. In most cases you can bring your own CD or music device to play the music you like. Pick something that you find soothing and helps you to relax.
3. Bring a friend
Unlike some other diagnostic imaging machines, MRI scanners don't require radiation to look deep inside your body. Without radiation, a friend can often remain with you throughout the scan. You might be inside the MRI's bore but they can stay in the room and hold your ankle, or your hand as long as they don't get in the way of the scan. Like anyone going into an MRI room, they'll need to be checked for any magnetic material and only enter with the technician's approval.
4. Practice mindfulness
Try this tip from one of our radiology team members in York: Close your eyes. Make sure there is no tension in the jaw area and be aware of your tongue sitting in the floor of the mouth. Imagine a light which radiates warmth, coming into your feet. Make it travel all the way up your body, down your arms into each finger and then back up into the neck, around the face and then sitting in the top of the head, until you wish it to leave the body.
5. Wear a sleeping mask
How often do you get the chance to lie down, close your eyes and take some time out? If you're particularly anxious about confined spaces, put a sleeping mask on before the bed slides into the bore. That way you won't see the confined space and you won't be tempted to look around like you might be if you simply closed your eyes.
6. Take a mental wander
Pretend the MRI scanner is a transportation device that can send you anywhere in the world. Imagine rambling down the streets of New York, exploring the Italian countryside, or sunbathing on a Spanish beach. If you're having difficulty picturing it, imagine getting up and walking out of the room you're in. Remember where the doors and stairways are. Take note of the details you noticed on your way in. Go outside and wander down the road. Pop into a coffee shop. You're only limited by your imagination.
Some MRI's, like the one available at our Manchester Diagnostic Suite, even help to set the mood with the help of ambient lighting technology, video projectors and music players.
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Last updated Monday 14 June 2021
First published on Friday 15 January 2016