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Claustrophobia and MRI: Preparing for a Scan Inside a Narrow Tunnel

Another thing that troubles such patients is the feeling that they can hear the technician but the technician won’t be able to hear them back

If the machine is narrow, it can feel like being stuck in a narrow tube with loud sounds bashing your ears. Know how to deal with it

Written by Kashish Sharma |Updated : September 9, 2022 10:21 AM IST

It is said that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. When the tunnel is an MRI machine, the proverb cannot stand truer for people suffering from claustrophobia who have been prescribed a scan by their attending doctor. Though a painless, noninvasive, and safe procedure, the thought of getting an MRI done can be distressing for people who suffer from acute anxiety in closed places.

MRI: A common test

Magnetic resonance imaging (or MRI) is a common body scanning test around the world. The technique is used to get a detailed, cross-sectional images of internal organs. It is a common diagnostic tool for medical practitioners across the globe. MRI makes use of magnets and radio waves to produce images on a computer. Unlike other scans, it does not make use of radiations. The scan can be performed to get a detailed view of various body organs, nerves, muscles and blood vessels.

Why MRI becomes scary

What some people find scary about the technique is not the procedure but the setting of the test. The scanner is like a huge tube with a table in the middle where the patient can lie down. While some scans don't require the head of the person to go inside the machine, in some cases when the scan is to be conducted on parts above the torso, the person has to go all the way inside the conjusted machine.

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While some MRI machines look like narrow tunnels, others are more open. The tunnel is usually open at both ends. The scan requires the patient to be perfectly still and there are loud machine sounds that can be heard during the scan. While inside the machine, the patient is temporarily cut off from the immediate surroundings. If the machine is narrow, it can feel like one being stuck in a narrow tube with loud sounds bashing your ears. The experience can be distressing for people who normally don't feel anxious. For people suffering from claustrophobia, the situation can be far more than distressing.

Claustrophobics and MRI

Claustrophobia is the irrational fear of confined spaces and can be triggered in tunnels, elevators, trains, planes and other places from where escape seems impossible at that moment.

When individuals suffering from the phobia are subjected to MRI, lying inside the narrow machine can trigger physical symptoms like excessive sweating, shaking, rapid heartbeat, troubled breathing, dizziness, choking or experiencing continuous ringing in ears. There is an overwhelming fear of fainting during the entire course of the examination. Another thing that troubles such patients is the feeling that they can hear the technician but the technician won't be able to hear them back.

Preparing for an MRI

While in extreme cases, under the consultation of the attending doctor, the last resort to getting the patient through the scan is sedation. But experts believe that it must be avoided unless absolutely necessary. These are few steps that can get you through the test-

If the scan doesn't concern your head or torso, putting your head inside the machine can be avoided. However, for this you must consult the attending doctor

It is always a good idea to familiarise yourself with the steps involved in the scan. Knowing what is going to happen next will reduce your anxiety

You can keep a friend close by the machine as the procedure doesn't make use of radiations

Ask your technician to talk to you during the course of examination and in fact they can talk you through the process. Hearing people talking to you would reduce your anxiety

Use earplugs to block the loud unpleasant sounds

While the scan can be exhausting sometimes, you can divert yourself by closing your eyes and escaping to a fantasy world

You will always have a buzzer by your side and you can press it whenever you need to. You must know that you are in control of the test

If you are badly injured or experiencing extreme physical distress, then you can discuss sedation options with your consultant.

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