First, learn how anxiety can interfere with MRI exam results
Anxiety is a common human emotion characterized by feelings of fear, worry, and insecurity. When faced with a potentially threatening situation, the body’s natural response is to release stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones can cause a variety of physical reactions, including an increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and sweating.
While these reactions can be helpful in a dangerous situation, they can also interfere with an MRI scan. The strong emotions and physical arousal associated with anxiety can make it difficult to stay still during the exam, resulting in blurry or incomplete images.
In addition, the stress hormones can affect the way the brain processes information, making it more difficult to interpret the results of the detailed images. As a result, anxiety can potentially have a significant impact on both the quality of an MRI scan and the accuracy of its results.
Worry not, here are ways you can reduce anxiety during your MRI scan.
Here are the best ways to reduce anxiety for your upcoming MRI exam:
1. Understand why MRI scans are loud
MRI machines (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) use strong magnets and radio waves to create images of the inside of the body. The magnets are so powerful that they can cause metallic objects to move towards them. This is why people are asked to remove all metal jewelry before having an MRI scan.
The loud noise that MRI machines make is caused by the magnetic fields and the radio waves. When the MRI machine is turned on, you can hear loud clicking sounds from its coils as they expand and contract due to electric currents being sent through them.
2. Talk with Your Doctor & MRI Technologist
If you are scheduled for an MRI, it’s important to ask your referring doctor what you can expect during the procedure. The doctor should be able to give you a step-by-step account of the MRI experience, from start to finish. This will help to ensure that you are prepared for the procedure and that you know what to expect. In addition, your doctor may be able to answer any question or concerns you may have to prepare for an MRI.
On the big day at your medical imaging center, have the MRI technologist explain exactly how the MRI machine works and what the scan will be like. They can prepare you for the sounds you will soon hear and what type of equipment will be used for your MRI procedure. By becoming familiar with the machine and how it works, your stress will subside.
Don’t be scared to ask any questions they want to provide you with the best possible patient care.
3. Bring a friend or family member with you to the scan for support
This might not be an option because of Covid-19 protocols, but if allowed, bring someone with you to the procedure. On the drive over, talk through your fears before arrival. Remember what you discussed with the doctor and reassure yourself it’s harmless.
Some imaging center will allow your companion to enter the MRI suite and stay for the procedure. Just having someone there you know and trust touching your foot or hand can be comforting.
4. Distract yourself from the noise and claustrophobic environment by focusing on your breath
There is a simple form of meditation that will help reduce hyperventilating, a panic attack or PTSD. By focusing on your breathing, even counting each breath, will allow a calmness to flow over you. Try inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Close your eyes, breathe deep and go to that happy place.
Practice deep breathing and relaxation techniques before your appointment.
5. Visualize a calm and peaceful place in your mind
It is such a cliché, but picture yourself on a beach relaxing in the sun or go anywhere your imagination will take you.
Maybe not so much the loud streets of New York, but somewhere tranquil that just thinking about makes you happy. Perhaps re-live a vacation or a local adventure you once took. Visualize the good times with family and friends. Just go wander!
Also, try closing your eyes during your meditation. You can’t be scared of what you can’t see. By closing your eyes, it can help you visualize a peaceful place. Perhaps bring a sleeping mask or place a cloth over your eyes before the scan begins.
6. Wear Loose & Comfortable Clothing
Unless you are required to wear a hospital gown, pretend you’re at home, put on some comfortable sweats and kick off your shoes. Sweats or yoga pants are ideal because an MRI machine is basically a giant magnet.
You will not be able to wear any type of clothing with metal. Any zippers, buttons or rivets will distort the scan. Even jewelry, piercings, keys or coins will have to go.
7. Ask your doctor if they can provide noise canceling headphones and music for the scan
Distract yourself from the noise and confined space by focusing on your favorite song or relaxing music. Some MRI machines can be as loud as a jet plane or rock concert. This noise doesn’t exactly help with anxiety.
Most hospitals and imaging centers will provide you with headphones to help cancel the noise. For your safety, be sure the ear protection is rated up to 29 decibels.
Music can be a soothing distraction during an MRI scan. Some facilities have audio systems that allow you to listen to music through your headphones. Before the procedure, the technologist will allow you to select your favorite music genre, talk radio or podcast. You are not allowed to bring a phone into the MRI suite, so this is a great option.
Audio systems, such as the MRIaudio Sound System are loaded with streaming apps such as Pandora, Spotify, iHeart Radio and more. The technologist will still have the ability to communicate by microphone through the headphones while you listen to your music.
8. Communicate with your MRI technologist during your scan
You will have the ability to talk with the technologist during the scan. If you are feeling at all uncomfortable, let them know immediately. Patients are also closely monitored by the technologist with audio or video. A little back and forth conversation can help alleviate the problem.
The technologist is all about patient comfort. They need you to relax and stay still for an accurate imaging MRI scan.
9. Patient Comfort Alert System
You’ll have a squeezing bulb alarm or call button to alert the MRI technologists in case you feel uncomfortable during your scan. Sometimes just knowing that you can instantly alert the technologist at anytime can help you feel more confident and reduce anxiety.
10. Ask for pillows and blankets
MRI suites can be cold because the MRI machines need cooling. A nice blanket on top will keep you warm and cozy. Pillows are always available for your head.
The technologist may use cushioned knee wedges and pads that helps the patient stay comfortable and motionless during a scan. These pads also reduce peak pressure and friction for improved blood flow.
11. Avoid caffeine and alcohol before your appointment
Caffeine and alcohol can increase anxiety because they are both stimulants. Caffeine is a stimulant that can cause the body to release adrenaline, which is known to increase anxiety. Alcohol is a depressant that can interfere with the brain’s ability to regulate emotions, which can lead to increased anxiety.
12. Talk to your doctor about medications that can help reduce anxiety during MRI scans
This would be the last option, but if you have severe claustrophobia or anticipate an anxiety attack, a mild sedation might be beneficial. This type of medication or anti-anxiety drug won’t put you to sleep, but will relax you enough to get through a scan. A worst case scenario could be an IV anesthesia. Always consult your doctor on the right medication to take and when to take it.