Minimizing fear for claustrophobic patients during an MRI

By Joe Gallivan, R.T.(R)(MR)  |  8/26/2015

For patients who are claustrophobic, the idea of getting an MRI can cause extreme anxiety. Because they can be in an enclosed space for up to 30 minutes, they can feel like they’re in real danger of being trapped, and can lead to panic attacks.

Fortunately, there are a few simple measures we can take to make the scanning process much easier for these patients.

Techniques for Providing Psychological Comfort

Claustrophobia is a very real condition, and an MRI is often a triggering procedure. One of the simplest and most effective steps healthcare organizations can take is to make sure the machine itself is comfortable for patients. Some radiology departments have MRI scanners with larger openings than usual. This allows for plenty of lighting and a fan blowing cool air inside, which helps reduce the closed-in feeling that makes claustrophobic people panic.

Another technique that works well is to have an employee or family member stay in the scan room with the patient during the procedure. It can be less frightening when the patient has someone to hold their hand and make them feel safe. (MRI has no radiation, so it’s perfectly safe for someone to accompany a patient into the room as long as that person has successfully completed the MRI safety screening process.)

A third technique that can be very effective is to put the patient in feet first. This sometimes allows the patient to have their head outside of the machine while the scan is being conducted. For instance, if someone is having their hip scanned, they may be able to have the entire process completed without ever having their head inside the machine. This technique is far less likely to trigger a claustrophobic reaction, because a patient doesn’t feel closed in.

It can also be helpful to have the technologist performing the scan talk to the patient throughout the procedure. This keeps the patient in the loop as to what’s going on, how much longer the scan will take, etc. Even a little encouragement like, “You’re doing great!” can mean a lot to a patient going through a difficult time with the MRI. And when the scan is over, remember to congratulate them for being courageous.

Stress vs Claustrophobia in MRI Procedures

Up to 65% of people who get an MRI will experience some level of stress during the procedure.1 Of course, many of these people feel mild anxiety brought on medical conditions that only contribute to this stress. Simple reassurance during the MRI procedure is usually enough to soothe these patients.

But patients with claustrophobia have more severe reactions. In addition to the techniques mentioned above, some extreme cases may require that the patients receive oral sedation. This can make it easier for these patients to get through the procedure. If they’re not panicking, they’ll be able to lie still, allowing for better images.

The Health Quest Medical Practice Imaging Center in Kingston specializes in easing the fears of claustrophobic patients. If you would like to stop in and see our MRI machine before you schedule your MRI, please call (845) 750-6977. We’ll be happy to show you around.

Learn more about MRIs and a wide range of imaging tests.