Claustrophobia is characterized as a fear of dark or confined spaces but people also describe this as a fear of being trapped without a way out. Usually, there is a fear of suffocation or a fear of restriction associated with this phobia as well. It affects around 9% of the US population according to the Journal of Psychological Medicine and though many live without being formally diagnosed, they go to great lengths to avoid confined spaces. Sometimes an MRI is unavoidable if you need answers, but the thoughts of lying in a tube for an extended amount of time however, is almost too much to bear if you have claustrophobia. In a study involving MRI procedures and those diagnosed with claustrophobia, 13% suffered from a full blown anxiety attack. How can you avoid these panic attacks? You’ll be happy to know there are things you can do.
1-Ask questions beforehand
The more educated and informed you are on the specifics of the test, the less likely you are to be surprised by something. Ask your doctor to explain the details of the whole MRI procedure and know exactly what to expect. It does you no good if you don’t speak up so if you are concerned about any particular aspect, let your doctor or technologist know.
2-Listen to music
If the exam allows, ask about listening to music. MRI tests are loud and that noise alone can be physically jarring. Add the confined feeling to that and it’s a lot to handle if you are claustrophobic. By putting some relaxing music in your ears, you can distract your mind from the fact that you are in a small space.
3-Cover your eyes
Whether you choose to keep your eyes closed or use an eye mask, don’t look. Before being moved into the machine, put music on and cover or close your eyes. Try and relax or better yet, try and sleep. If you can keep your eyes from seeing the confined space you are actually in, you can avoid your mind running away with irrational thoughts.
4-Breathe and meditate
If you can focus your breathing on deep, calm breaths, you can stop yourself from hyperventilating and an anxiety attack from derailing the test. Deep, relaxing breathing with your eyes closed will keep you at peace. Meditation or prayer are two things that help most people focus on positive energy when confronted with a fear.
5-Ask for a blanket
Again, if the test allows it, you can ask for a blanket. Some patients report a feeling of security and comfort when a blanket is tucked in tightly around them. If a blanket is tucked tightly around some people, the anxiety is minimized as the blanket acts as a soothing relief.
During the MRI, you’re asked to be as still as possible and this can be difficult for some people. The desire to stretch or adjust your position while you are in the MRI can be overwhelming. To avoid this, stretch your muscles and limbs to help you be as comfortable as possible while in the machine.
Sometimes, no matter your preparation, the anxiety feels too great to combat on your own and in that instance; there is medication available to help you relax. Talk with your doctor about your claustrophobia and ask for a sedative to help. These sedatives may make you sleepy and often people will fall asleep during the MRI. Make sure you inform the staff that you have taken a sedative so they are aware and make certain you have a driver.
With the right preparation and tools, getting through your MRI when you have claustrophobia does not have to be an added stress. The staff at Intermountain Medical Imaging is caring and understanding concerning the anxiety associated with MRIs and we will do whatever we can to make you as comfortable as possible. With the right preparations, your MRI test can be hassle-free. Don’t hesitate to ask us any questions you may have, we are happy to assist you.