Saturday, 17 June 2017

Worried About an MRI Scan? Tips and Advice

I've had MRI scans every year since I was 13; I'm now 30 so I've had quite a few. However, because I'm very claustrophobic, I always get anxious before the scan, and sometimes work myself up for a few days before despite knowing what to expect.

I had a brain MRI scan a few weeks ago and whilst I was lying in the large tunnel-like scanner thinking about blogging and what I could write about, of course an idea sparked to share some advice for those who are new to or worried about having an MRI.

Now, I've had these scans in many different hospitals across the UK and there doesn't seem to be a standard practice, so please be aware that you may not be able to do some of the things I mention due to the rules of the particular hospital. It can also change depending on the staff in the department that day too. However, let's just get into the tips/advice.

  • Tell the technician if you are nervous.
  • Your GP may be able to prescribe you medication to help you relax or a mild sedative if you raise your concerns with them beforehand. If you do go own this route, make sure someone accompanies you to your MRI appointment.
  • You'll be told you remove your jewellery, it's always best to do this at home. I have quite a lot of ear piercings but they're titanium so I leave them in. Two scans ago a nurse ran a small magnet over my ears and they were fine but some staff are adamant about taking off jewellery.
  • Don't forget to remove any hair clips too.
  • Wear a sports bra with no underwire and/or metal fastening. Again, some staff will still ask you to remove it.
  • I wear a cotton t-shirt and draw-string sweat pants instead of jeans but am often made to wear a gown leaving just my knickers and socks on. I was told at my last scan it is in case there is any lint on the clothing that can be picked up by the scanner.
  • If you have limited mobility/pain/whatever reason and need assistance getting changed into a gown, make sure you do not attend the scan appointment on your own so you will have help changing. 
  • Go to the toilet before your scan, some can last up to an hour.
  • If you suffer with pain or anything that might be exacerbated by the scanner, make sure you take your medication. I always have my painkillers one hour prior.
  • Do some gentle stretches beforehand, especially if you are unable to lie still for long periods. I have a lot of spasms and tremors so loosening my muscles with stretches helps. It also allows me to focus on the exercise instead of the impending scan.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation helps me beforehand too. I find anything that makes me focus on my body instead of worrying about the scan beneficial. Here's a PDF on what it is, but it's basically clenching certain muscles, focusing on that and then releasing the tension.
  • Sometimes (depending on the hospital/staff) you will be allowed to be accompanied into the scanner room. I've had my mum come in on many occasions, and a few years ago - my boyfriend, however, he wasn't allowed last time. They will also have to remove any metal. And depending on what you're having scanned they can hold your hand or foot if you needed physical reassurance.
  • As soon as you lie down on the table, close your eyes. I've found if I keep my eyes open and can see how close the roof of the scanner is to my face, I panic and need to get out. 
  • Wear an eye mask - the devil on my shoulder always tells me to have a sneak peek despite keeping my eyes tightly closed, I never have but an eye mask would mean I couldn't anyway.
  • Be aware you may have the body part that is being scanned braced so it doesn't move. I've had this on knee scans as well as brain and neck. The brain/neck can be particularly harrowing as it feels like there is a cage around your head. Just keep your eyes firmly shut, there's nothing to see.
  • You're given a panic button and can press it at any point to alert the technician.
  • The technician can hear you at all times, and they can communicate with you - this puts me at ease because it is reassuring.
  • Ask for updates; before I lie down I ask the tech to give me a countdown on how long left I have. You lose track of time lying there, so I like to know if it's nearly over. You can also ask the tech to talk to you as it may calm you.
  • Cool air is blown in the scanner and I personally really like this sensation as I don't feel as trapped. Obviously if you get too cold or don't like it you can ask for it to be turned off/down.
  • Wear socks - the air conditioning can be lovely but cold feet equal cramp and that's never fun.
  • Take a blanket if you get cold easily.
  • Make sure you tell the technician if you are starting to feel uncomfortable or in pain. I often tense-up to try and prevent spasms which lead to more pain when I could just ask the tech if I'm okay to move my leg.
  • An MRI scan is very noisy, you will often be given ear defenders but take earplugs if you are particularly sensitive to noise.
  • Often music will be played and at some hospitals you are allowed to take a CD/audiobook. Bear in mind that the scan is very loud so you might not be able to hear music.
  • Focused breathing whilst being scanned is good to help with anxiety.
  • As is focusing on anything. I like to sing songs in my head, I once sang a whole Alter Bridge album to myself. But counting, planning, reciting poetry will all work too.

I realise that list is very long but I wanted to give as much information as possible.

It is also worth mentioning that some hospitals have claustrophobia clinics so it might be worth looking to see if they are available near you.

During my last scan, the technician said as soon as I lay down, 'just close your eyes and keep them closed, there's nothing to see in there anyway.' And I think that's important too. You're not missing out on anything. Use your imagination and lose yourself for the time you're in the scanner. Although you're lying on your own, you are never alone, the technician can see and hear you at all times, and the panic button is there for a reason, so use it if you need to.

You got this.

Special thanks to ElleAmanda, Kate, Gemma, Susan, Kat, Hannah-Mae, Caroline, Kat, AJSusie, Mara, Anna, and Donna on Twitter for suggestions.


  1. Fantastic post! Very informative for everyone! I would also say that due to the cold air they blow in to the machine, if you don't take your own, always ask for a blanket from them, they should be able to provide this for you. It's sometimes a long scan so you can get very cold, I've always asked for one and had it over my middle covering my feet.

  2. This was a super helpful and interesting post! Thankyou for sharing :) - Sarah x


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