Join our email list!

Get daily updates delivered to your inbox
Thank you for subscribing

How to Survive an MRI If You are Claustrophobic

How to Survive an MRI If You are Claustrophobic

A key test for identifying multiple sclerosis during diagnosis, or to confirm a relapse, is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI.) For those who’ve never had to undergo an MRI, the thought of having this test might be terrifying. Being encased in a magnetic tube that, when operational, sends out deafening noise and requires complete stillness can be intimidating.

This is especially true for those who need to undergo diagnostics with and without contrast dye, and who also may need images of both the brain and spinal column. Remaining stone still for as long as an hour-and-a-half in a tight space isn’t a skill most people can boast! It doesn’t help that others describe the experience in ways that make it seem impossible to endure.

However, there are ways to survive it. Even a claustrophobic person (me!) has found solutions for managing the discomfort that an MRI portends.

Hear no evil

The extreme drum-like noise of the magnets inside the tube are impossible to ignore.

By now, MRI technicians in radiology labs have acquired the appropriate headgear to protect your ears and help you block out the noise. Most also come equipped with piped-in music you can concentrate on to relax.

Discuss the latest research in the MS News Today forums!

Whether you’ll be able to relax and forget about the noise depends on a few things.

Did you choose the right music? Once, I selected stand-up comedy, and while I absolutely found it relaxing, I also kept wanting to laugh out loud. For practical concerns, that is not optional during an MRI!

Can you hear the actual music? Sometimes it’s too soft and becomes a pointless endeavor. You can ask them to turn it up.

Use your imagination. Sometimes I imagine I’m at a concert sitting near the drum set, and the banging sounds are actual drums. They do have a rhythm, thankfully. Mind over matter can do a lot to get you through a long MRI.

Out of sight, out of mind

Claustrophobia is one of the biggest reasons why people can’t handle the MRI test. Being tucked inside a tube and asked to remain still is challenging even for someone who doesn’t have anxiety about tight spaces.

Some things I’ve tried:

Wear a washcloth over the eyes: If your vision is blocked in this fashion, then you can’t really open up your eyes and stare at the closeness of the equipment that’s mere inches from your face.

Get swaddled: When I go in, I ask to be tightly wrapped (“like a burrito”) with one of those white cotton blankets so prevalent in hospitals. Why? There’s a certain comfort in feeling “tucked in.” Heavy blankets are used by insomniacs, people with autism, and those with anxiety so they can sleep better. Getting tucked in offers the same benefits.

Also, when the technician tucks the blanket around your arms and legs, you can’t feel the machinery against your skin when they load you in for a scan. Not only that, but you can’t “break the seal” of the blanket easily, which helps prevent anxious movement.

Be the MRI

Practicing self-hypnosis or meditation or relaxation techniques inside the MRI can turn the entire experience into a calm-fest.

Yogic breathing techniques help me tremendously. Granted, stillness is a requirement, so I can’t take deep breaths without making movements. But even with ordinary breathing, you can count breaths as a way to focus attention on something besides the test. When I do this, I end up falling asleep.

I’ve also visualized golden rings of light encircling my body. I start with my toes and end with the crown of my head, each section of my body slowly melting under the imagined warmth of these rings. By the time I get to the top of my head, I’m relaxed and no longer feel my heart pounding through my chest.

Play it loose

I have issues with muscle cramping, which can be problematic during an MRI. If my back seizes while inside the tube, the only real way to relax the muscles is the one thing I am not allowed to do — move and stretch. So, I generally try to stretch to loosen up before I get in. The technicians don’t mind if you do a few stretches first if it means you’ll survive the round without having to start over again. Placing a pillow under your knees also takes pressure off your lower back.

Get a helper

When in doubt, you can request a very light relaxation medication like Ativan to settle nerves during an MRI. Make sure you also take your antispasmodic medications, if they’ve been prescribed. Stick to a healthy diet that supplies plenty of magnesium, calcium, and potassium so that you don’t find yourself struggling through charley horses midway through a scan. Even a banana right before your test can work wonders.

Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

Latest Posts
  • nystagmus, ms nurse, cbd topicals, CAM, telemedicine and MS, complementary medicine
  • nystagmus, ms nurse, cbd topicals, CAM, telemedicine and MS, complementary medicine
  • nystagmus, ms nurse, cbd topicals, CAM, telemedicine and MS, complementary medicine
  • nystagmus, ms nurse, cbd topicals, CAM, telemedicine and MS, complementary medicine

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 3.3 / 5. Vote count: 209

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

As you found this post useful...

Follow us on social media!

We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!

Let us improve this post!

Tell us how we can improve this post?


  1. Amy says:

    As a claustrophobic, my first MRI attempt 15 years ago was a disaster. I hit the panic button quickly and was sobbing by the time they got me out of there. Since then, I’ve been hooked up to an IV for valium while I’m in there. It’s better than everyone, since I won’t be wasting the time of the staff by not being able to complete the MRI. I’d advise people be honest with themselves about what they can and can’t handle. Asking for help is not a bad thing – it’s the best option for everyone involved in the process.

    I wish I had your suggestions before my first MRI, because I would probably have had a much better experience. Great ideas!

    • Craig says:

      Swaddled?? Are you Kidding? Obviously not, but that’s just the next level up in claustrophobia for me; trapped in the tube and bound so I can’t wriggle out. I don’t even want to wear the headphones, but they make me these days to protect my hearing. They should hear as good as I do.

      I’ve had both Valium and Ativan with no effect. I’ve tried imagining good things, golf holes I enjoy, doing square roots in my head; couldn’t keep the concentration up for any of these. The only thing that’s kept me sane is trying to count to 1,800; 30 minutes times 60 seconds. I rarely get over 100 before losing count and I’ve never gotten to 200, but somehow I know time is passing.

      • Tamara Sellman says:

        Craig, LOL
        Believe it or not, people who are extremely anxious like to be swaddled so they can sleep. There are weighted blankets for just such a purpose.

        I think it depends upon your level of claustrophobia, yes.

        For me, feeling the hardware against the skin of my arms made me anxious, so the blanket barrier between body and machine “fools” my body into not registering panic. I also usually hate anything on my face (including a blanket), but the washcloth over my eyes was more tolerable than me trying to resist an anxious peek at the head cradle just inches away.

        Imagining stuff certainly helps, and you definitely imagine some pretty boring and distracting things! LOL Counting is also a good practice, even if you have to keep starting over, if only because you can keep a rhythm and breathe as you count, and that can be relaxing against the edge of claustrophobia trying to scream its way out of your body!

        Be well!

        • Carole says:

          Heck yes. I have taken IV and pills. Pills work better because the iv was stopped while I still in there. With pills, it lasted the whole time. I take mine 30 minutes before the scan and it takes a LOT of it to keep me from bolting or vibrating from fear during the scan.

    • Tamara Sellman says:

      Amy, your experience mirrors that of a couple of people I know. You’re advice is right on… be honest about what you can and can’t handle. (Although, to be fair, I think some people don’t realize how claustrophobic they are until they have their first MRI!)

      And definitely use whatever tools you can to make it possible, including medications, if that’s what it takes! The data from the MRI is so important to our disease management, it’s worth it.

      Wishing you well, and thanks for the comment!

    • Manpreet Singh says:

      One of the toughest thing I ever faced in life. Ya I was scared of falling into sleep and then waking up in hurry and hitting my head with machine. Never ever breadthed so fastly , never ever felt so anxious

    • I knew I was claustrophobic from previous MRI’s, and it was giving me the maximum dose of Valium that made another MRI survivable, for me. With that dose, getting through the MRI was a breeze. I also recommend ingesting some potassium, like a banana or an apple (or OTC potassium pills), because I have had some bad charley-horses. With that shot of potassium in me, I couldn’t even MAKE either leg cramp! Oh, and once I kept dozing off, and I snored! My snoring vibrations ruined the MRI. If you snore, don’t go there sleepy!

      • Annie says:

        Hi Charles, your MRI experience is going to be very helpful to me. My question: my doctor gave me a prescription for 6 Valium pills. He didn’t tell me how far in advance of the MRI to take them, nor did he tell me how many to take, other than “start with 1 and 1/2 and see how that does. You can always take another one if needed.” Well, no, I can’t, because I don’t think they are going to want to stop the process, pull me out of the tube so I can take another pill, and then wait for it to start working! So, do you have any dosage recommendations? I’ve taken Valium before, and 1 pill doesn’t do anything for me.
        Thanks in advance!

    • Tarsha says:

      Hi, I have a very hard time with MRI’s. I have asked to be sedated but in GA that’s not an option. What state do you reside in because that’s awesome they hooked you up yo an IV.

      • Cheryl Phelps says:

        I am very claustrophobic, so I asked for an Open MRI to begin with (the .2 Tesla, but there are others, of course. I also asked my doctor to prescribe 2 Xanax to be taken about an hour before the MRI began. I was sufficiently relaxed to go to sleep during the procedure. I also did as a previous commenter suggested: take a magnesium and a calcium tablet and I ate a banana. It worked very well.

      • Kara says:

        Find a place that does open MRI’s. It is way more open. And can have someone with you holding your hand the whole time. Oh and yeah, take the valium. If they won’t give ypu valium at the place your doctor can prescribe it for you in advance.

  2. I may be needing an MRI soon, and I also happen to be a little claustrophobic. The MRI is definitely an important test, so I will just need to work on overcoming my fear. These are some great tips to help. I hadn’t thought of wearing a washcloth over the eyes, but that is an easy trick that might help. Thanks for sharing!

    • Tammie Grant says:

      Get one pill of Valium. Take an hour before. U won’t care about anything. I had two bad experiences in the mri machine. Then I broke down and took the Valium. No problem after that.

        • Rick Morton says:

          My doctor gave me a script for 2mg Xanax. I took one pill and a fourth of another. That’s 2.5 mg about half hour before going in. Sitting in the inside waiting room I told my wife I was getting concerned because I still knew where I was and wasn’t feeling it. That’s all I remember until I woke up on the ouch at home about 5 hours later. So if you’re claustrophobic and panicked over your MRI… that’s what does it for me!
          I’m having another next week and am all set to go.

  3. Debbie says:

    Just tried to have an MRI today and I lost it. Couldn’t do it. Need the MRI because I was in a bad car accident. Not sure if medication will help
    Need help

    • Tammie Grant says:

      Take 1 Valium from your doctor a hour before. You won’t care about anything. Believe me. I had 2 failed mri,s

    • Willy Bennett says:

      Yup. Lasted 30 seconds. Heart rate skyrocketed, couldn’t breath etc. Hit panic squeezing thing. When out I couldn’t operate. Was starting to pass out. Had told Dr of my extreme claustrophobic problem. Tech told me of open rig at another hospital. I’ll never do this tube again. Still freaked three hours later.

    • Kara says:

      Find a place that does open MRI’s. It is way more open. And can have someone with you holding your hand the whole time. Oh and yeah, take the valium

  4. Slynnnnss says:

    I just had an MRI and it was the first one where I seriously thought about squeezing the ball to be pulled out (have had maybe 3-4 prior years ago).

    I know I’ve become more claustrophobic as I’ve grown older and the idea of being stuck in that tube is frightening. I actually like the sounds and find them calming.

    So, I NEVER have my eyes open. That would NOT work! My mind can still “see” the confined space and once I slightly opened them to look down at the entrance at my toes out of curiosity – in flowed panic.

    I thought about counting and decided to go with visualization to calm and focus myself. I started with my happiest place and had to think about the textures and details because I couldn’t recreated the calm feeling that happy place normally brings. When I ran out of details I moved on and recreated in my mind all the rooms and details of my passed grandparent’s house. And I explored a second house I can no longer visit, room by room.

    The distraction of trying to remember and feel the details was engrossing – but I’m sad I no longer “enjoy” the MRI experience. Good luck to you.

  5. Stanley. Dvorznak says:

    I just completed my MRI, Being a big man and very clostafobic I took .05 clonapezium and Valium. I became very tired and by the time the tech hooked up the in contrast I was sleeping. I never remembered going into the tube.

  6. Ivy C says:

    I had my first MRI this morning. I do suffer a tad from claustrophobia, so I had myself mentally prepared for the tunnel. I did NOT anticipate the face cage. The technician was great about me freaking out a bit. I had to take the cage off the first time, then made it in, but freaked out when I opened my eyes. I finally got through it by:

    Trading the earphones for earplugs (take some with you if they do not offer them). I Found the earphones made my head fit too snug in the bottom pillow and made it worse. The plugs allowed me to turn my head side to side which felt better.

    Lay down and close your eyes and breathe for a couple of minutes. Just let yourself get comfortable lying there without moving, and without the cage at first. Allow the technician to snap on the cage after you give her a “thumb’s up” and request she snaps the clasp as quietly as possible.

    Tuck your arms close to your sides so you do not feel the slight squeeze at the entrance to the tunnel. I’m a chubby girl, and it worked for me. If you are larger, perhaps clasp your hands over your chest-just don’t move.

    My MRI was 8 sequences. I had my tech tell me which number we were on and how long it would last. The range was 14 seconds to 2 min 45 seconds. Then you just count until it’s over.

    Whatever you do, just do NOT open your eyes!!!!

    You can do it!

    • Tamara Sellman says:

      Yes, that cage may not be something some will expect. On the other hand, some machines don’t use it, or the headspace is so open you don’t even notice it (in the newer MRIs). Good advice, thanks for sharing!

  7. Kado Lewis says:

    I’m attempting to undergo an MRI for a thoracic strain after two attempts I’m experiencing reoccurring panic attacks/anxiety,I’m awaiting a call from the doc for next step traumatizing to say the least,you never know until you attempt it.

    • Tamara Sellman says:

      Kado, I hope you were able to find a solution! If you’re comfortable doing so, feel free to share your experience… so many others can benefit from what’s happened for you. Best wishes,

      • Anna says:

        Going in for an MRI and x-ray of my neck. Was told from old MRI, I’ll be needing surgery… Not a very calming thing to hear. I’m very claustrophobic and hopefully I’ll make it through this ordeal today… It’s VERY important that it gets done too so I know I can’t just chicken out and not do it. Plan on taking a Valium before procedure, just not sure how long before the exam should I take it.

        • Arleen says:

          I finally had my brain MRI With contrast today. I made it through with use of Xanax. The face cage was difficult. I tried a couple time to get it done In the open MRI Setting and still couldn’t. So I did some research and found an upright MRI where you sit upright. It was much better. I suffer from anxiety and claustrophobia. I don’t let others tell me how I should feel or that I shouldn’t be afraid. I’m a very accomplished And strong person so I don’t see it as being weak. I suffer from anxiety since having a stroke years ago. anxiety is not something I allow or let happen, it just dies. Want to encourage those who struggle anxiety or with taking an MRI to keep trying no matter how many times it takes. Consider having your doctor prescribe Xanax and take 30 minutes before your appointment -it takes time to kick in, take someone in the room with you For support, pray and don’t give up. Just tell yourself that tomorrow it will all be behind you. You can do it! I did.

  8. Andrew says:

    I had my first fully enclosed MRI yesterday for my shoulder. The technician gave me something to put on that really helped me get through it without experiencing a feeling of panic. It was a pair of glasses with 45 degree angled mirrors on the lenses, so when you open your eyes while looking straight up you’re actually seeing the opening of the tube toward your feet. It really created a case of perception over reality and I recommend that every MRI imaging center offer the same glasses to claustrophobic patients. Had I not worn them and opened my eyes during the MRI I can’t say that I may not have hit the panic button. It’s a lot tighter in there than it looks when you’re standing next to the machine, especially when you’re strapped in and your shoulder is tucked into a restraint.

    • Tamara Sellman says:

      The glasses sound awesome! Maybe this will be standard equipment in the future for all MRI patients!

  9. Sue says:

    I have two MRIs coming up (head and breasts), which will be done at the same time. I am extremely claustrophobic; have been told by nurse that I cannot have an IV to be totally put out. What is the strongest med that I can take so that I am NOT aware of anything that is going on, as I just cannot tolerate knowing when I am going into the tube or even being in it.

    • Tamara Sellman says:

      Not sure I can be of much help there, Sue, that would be a better question for your MD. Everyone is different and the different kinds of sedatives and relaxants out there are becoming more strictly policed. Definitely ask them what they would recommend, and let us know what you find out? Good luck to you,

    • Dani D says:

      I take a 2mg clonazepam and hour and a half prior to the test and it is SO much more tolerable. It helps greatly. Ativan never did anything to help. The clonazepam is a lot stronger and completely puts me in a state of who cares lol and I always fall asleep. The only down side is the effects are felt for the rest of the day Wishing you all the best!

    • Ang says:

      Find an open machine ; Valium works best – 1 … – 5 mg tablet one hour before exam and one more 30 minutes before

      Don’t go to the tube machines!!!! Open machines better option

  10. Heather says:

    Had my first MRI today,well, attempted to have.I didn’t take the 5mg or Valium doc prescribed thinking I was able to get thru it but soon as I was sliding in,I squeezed the panic ball.Im so disappointed but going to reschedule so I can get it done because I need to have done and this time will take the meds to be able to relax.My anxiety got the best of me this time but hopefully not next time.

    • Tamara Sellman says:

      Hi Heather,
      Wishing you luck with your next MRI, I do think none of us really know how we will respond until we get inside that chamber. Now you know and I’m sure you will do much better. Let us know how it goes in round two, would you? Good luck!!!

    • Jami says:

      This was me today. I went in to the procedure eager and wanting results. But as soon as I got in the tube I was already hitting the panic button. I attempted to get thru the entire procedure 3 times and the longest I lasted was about 2 mins. I walked out of the hospital in tears. I still am slightly frantic over the entire situation.

      • Tamara Sellman says:

        Sorry, Jami. I hope they can help you relax better for the next time. It’s such a hard thing for so many people. You are not alone.

  11. Abby says:

    I am so claustrophobic and I went in for a second attempt yesterday for a shoulder MRI. First one was the regular open tube and the second one was apparently an open MRI which really did not make any difference. Panicked again and lasted only a few minutes. My issue is the closeness of the ceiling of the MRI to my face and makes me feel like I am in a coffin. Reading these posts, I think if I can go in feet first and/or lie on my stomach, I will feel more in control. Does anyone know if either of these are always options?

    • Tamara Sellman says:

      That closeness is really hard to face (quite literally), I know you are not the only one who feels that way! I’m not personally aware off these position options but you certainly could ask the radiology crew if there are accommodations that might work. Good luck and do let us know what you find out.

    • Charlene says:

      I have had 3 MRI’s for my shoulder. I too connect handle the closeness. Feels like being in a coffin. I have to constantly move, if I don’t the nerves go crazy. I have to take a diazepam pill in order to get it done. Honestly even when I first go in I feel anxious and then afterba few minutes I am totally relaxed and I don’t remember a thing. Also don’t open your eyes, everytime I did this I would feel trapped. They will not let you go in feet first or on your stomach and being wrapped is not an option for me.

    • Angela says:

      I totally agree that the close proximity of the ceiling to your face makes it worse and anything with rounded ceiling or tunnel is what makes it worse for claustrophobic people. I think it depends on what part of the body is being scanned determined whether you have an option to go in feet first. I had scan for mid body area and asked if I could leave my head out and was told my head would have to be completely in the tunnel or at least in line with the outer edge. He did that and I was able to peep out and look at ceiling tiles for the duration. Tomorrow I am having total head scan with that mask thing and know I will be hysterical. I will be taking Zanax beforehand and praying to my loved ones in the spirit world including my furbabies to get me through it.

  12. Tracy says:

    I wigged out today during MRI & couldn’t do it. He slid me in a couple inches and I was like NOPE. The top of the tube was so close to my face there’s just no way. I will be rescheduling for the “big” machine.

    • Tamara Sellman says:

      It’s okay, least you have a “big machine” option! Good luck. The difference between the two is considerable; you may find the more open features of the other MRI equipment more tolerable.

  13. John Williams says:

    I was told by a friend that they have a stand up MRI machine in Germany has anyone else heard or experience this machine I’m severely claustrophobia

    • Tamara Sellman says:

      I’ve heard of these, John, but I have no idea if hospitals or clinics use these here in the states. Seems like a great idea!

    • Toby Hoots says:

      Tried stand up MRI in Atlanta. Lasted 7 minutes before I clawed my way out of their machine. Not sure I would be welcome back for a second attempt. It was every bit as horrible for me as the tube.

      • Tamara Sellman says:

        Toby, sorry to hear you had an unpleasant experience. Did you try a relaxation medication prior?

      • Tamara Sellman says:

        Jim, if you know where, do share. I know lots of folks in Seattle who might benefit from it!

  14. Yolanda says:

    Needed a MRI tried yesterday went in tube had eyes close but needed to open for a second and i freaked out squeezing the button and screaming. I can’t handle that machine so i need the strongest thing to sedate whats the strongest?

    • Tamara Sellman says:

      I think the sedation meds really vary and may depend on so many factors. I’d ask a pharmacist or your doctor for advice on them, as I don’t really know which are best for getting through an MRI, and especially for you.

  15. Kelly says:

    I’m going for an MRI in about 3 hours, it was originally scheduled for August but they had a cancelation (probably because someone read these comments lol) and called me yesterday. Luckily I don’t have too much time to worry, I will be taking a prescribed Ativan prior to, hoping this works. I will post my experience later.

  16. Jessica Steele says:

    Awful awful awful! Went this morning for my MRI, I was a little worried going in but the technician said “Hey you just had a baby! NOTHING is worse than childbirth!”
    I would have agree’d with her on any other day. I got in that tube and didn’t even wait for it to start up before I screamed my way out and burst into tears. I didn’t consider myself a wimp but this is something else. I don’t think I can go back, I really don’t know what to do. I can conclude that it is worse than childbirth and my babies head was in the 95th percentile.

    • Tamara Sellman says:

      it’s definitely a very different experience from childhood. You may wish to try a sedative if the need for an MRI is great. Good luck!

      • Jessica Steele says:

        Ok. I went and re did my MRI with IV sedation… I was SO nervous but seconds later literally didn’t care about a thing, the 20 mins I was in there felt like 2. I’d go as far as saying I even enjoyed the experience! Can highly recommend this for people as claustrophobic as me!

        • Tamara Sellman says:

          Congratulations! Thanks for sharing your experience, I’m sure it will encourage others to try everything they can to get through this important test.

        • Maria Immediato says:

          Jessica, where did you get the IV sedation??? I have to have a core biopsy mri guided for my breast. Giving me Lorezepam , but I am freaking out. IV sedation so easy…my anxiety would be zero.

  17. Guy Jones says:

    I have been deathly afraid of the very thought of going in an MRI tube since I was a little kid since i am extremely claustrophobic and fear having a panic attack while stuck inside. Finally I had to bite the bullet and get one this afternoon.

    Please allow me to give you a few pro tips as my experience ended up not being bad at all. Dare I say I found it relaxing, which would have sounded so foreign to my trembling self two days ago.

    First of all, ask your doctor for prescription of Ativan (250 mbs) and take them an hour before your appointment. That will settle you down. Secondly, only go to place that has a short/Wide bore machine. These are wider with more interior space while also being a bit shorter. With these machines some of your body won’t even have to enter the tube and the interior space is not uncomfortable.

    I had an MRI on my lower back and I was able to go in feet first an only had to go in so that my my head was barely inside the tube. In fact, I could literally see the outside of the tube the whole time by glancing upward.

    Knowing i had more space than imagined and my head was a mere few inches from being outside, i was at complete ease and almost fell asleep a few times during the scans (the noises are strangely hypnotic). The time flew by and I was almost disappointed it was over as I was so comfortable.

    Now I realize if you have to get a scan from the chest up then more of your head will be in an it may be as comfortable but otherwise it seems like 60% of patients can get one of these tests with very little anxiety

    • Tamara Sellman says:

      thanks for writing! Glad you had a tolerable experience. I too find the noises strangely hypnotizing. Your point is well made about head/chest scans: these are far more likely to create anxiety. Most, if not all, of MS patients will have at least one head scan. However you can get through it, the information collected is so worth it.

  18. Anne says:

    I never considered myself to be claustrophobic. But things changed when the face cage was clamped in place. That’s when I started to feel confined. As the technician started me into the tube, I told her to please wait. After a couple of minutes of me expressing my unexpected fear of being stuck in a tube and her asking me if I still wanted to go ahead with it, I said I’d try it because I really needed to have it done. I asked if there was an open MRI machine anywhere in our town, but she said not for the brain. Another factor that had me very fearful was the time it would take. Because I was scheduled for 3 different brain scans, it was scheduled to take close to an hour. Ugh! So I closed my eyes and entered the tube, but then she stopped it. I asked her if that was all the farther I had to go in and she replied yes. She said, “here, let me have your hand. See, you’re not in there that far at all.” Well, that brought immediate relief to me! For some reason, I envisioned that I was going to be in up to my ankles. I hope this helps somebody. Try to remember that you’re only about an arm’s length away from being out. I still kept my eyes closed though and I had ear plugs and headphones with music. The MRI noises were loud so I could still hear them, but they didn’t bother me at all. Kind of rhythmic with varied sounds.

  19. Tamara Sellman says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Anne, your story could really help encourage others to stick it out!

  20. Jack says:

    I’ve had an MRI before, that I handled fairly well, so even though I’m mildly claustrophobic I knew what to expect and declined sedatives for the MRI scan I had last week. Big mistake. It turns out the MRI I had a few years ago was with a “wide bore” machine. The one last week was considerably tighter than that one. My arms were up against the walls of the tunnel. To help with the pain in my shoulder I pulled my right hand onto my stomach and held it there with my left hand — the back of my left hand would touch the ceiling of the tunnel when I took a deep breath. Not good. But I was just going to keep my eyes closed and power through it for half an hour. And then the jackhammer sounds began and something was wrong – my stomach and intestines wiggled and pulled and moved all around like I had a litter of kittens in there. I squeezed the panic bulb and the machine stopped. Instantly it occurred to me what was happening. I’d had an upset stomach that afternoon, so just before departing for the scan I took a big swig of Pepto Bismol. Pepto contains bismuth, which is a metal. (It’s funny, they ask you tons of questions to see if you have any metal in your body, but they never ask if you’ve drank Pepto recently.) Bismuth, element 83 in the periodic table, is diamagnetic, meaning that it is repelled by magnetic fields. In fact, of all the elements in the periodic table, no other metal is MORE diamagnetic than bismuth! The operator asked what was wrong. I explained that I’d had Pepto just before arriving and that I could feel my innard’s moving around in response to the magnets. She assured me that I’d be fine, and resumed the scanning. The feeling wasn’t painful but it was unnerving and added to my anxiety. I hope this helps someone.

    • Tamara Sellman says:

      Wow, thanks for sharing your experience, Jack. Something we don’t think about until after the fact! It’s like all the warnings about wearing certain kinds of athletic wear, which has metal threads woven into it. People would wear these in MRIs and come out feeling burned. Yikes!

  21. Anna says:

    Going in for an MRI and x-ray of my neck. Was told from old MRI, I’ll be needing surgery… Not a very calming thing to hear. I’m very claustrophobic and hopefully I’ll make it through this ordeal today… It’s VERY important that it gets done too so I know I can’t just chicken out and not do it. Plan on taking a Valium before procedure, just not sure how long before the exam should I take it.

      • Rohita says:

        Thanks Tamara. I went for MRI on the 20th of July with sedation and it was breeze. I don’t know what iv I was given but I got my senses back as soon as I got out of the machine. I found myself listening to some Indian music on headphones. I was able to sit talk and walk almost effortlessly. But I was asked to leave after half an hour. I am writing this because I know the anxiety that I went through for 2 weeks. I would suggest to all those who are petrified like me to please ask for sedation. And as Tamara has mentioned, there us no shame in it. Thank you for this forum.

        • Michael says:

          I also am extremely claustrophobic and let my doctor know that, told him at least 4 times when we talked, I said I need ivsedation. Found out today he got me a MRI appointment and oral Lorazepam 1MG 30min before the MRI…..I called his office and talked to the nurse and she told he will not give me the IV Sedation, am so P*%%#@ off about this, why would he not give me this Sedation, I am 6ft 1inch and weigh 242, any other meds I could take….

  22. Dana says:

    I had to have a brain MRI today and I am extremely claustrophobic, but I had one five years ago and got through it without any sedatives or meds and have gotten through all of my breast MRIs. The machines opening was so small and I am only 5’2”s and 112 pounds and there was little room. I new it would be hard but I couldn’t even make it long enough for her to start the machine once the head cage was on and she put me in I panicked and started to cry once she got me out. Tried again and couldn’t even get into the tube, that damn head cage makes it unbearable for me. I am going to try again with a sedative of some kind called in but I do not even think that will help. I have now started to panic anytime I think about having to do it. The technician told me that an open MRI for the brain would be worse but since I wouldn’t be in a tube I think it would be better to attempt that with the help of a sedative?? They do not have an open machine but other hospitals in the area do, I am wondering if I am better off doing that? I do not want to waste their time or mine if I can’t get through it a second time.

    • Tamara Sellman says:

      Don’t worry about wasting their time. They are still getting paid! I say, try an open machine, what do you have to lose? If you can get the referral, seems to me it would be worth it. Let us know how it works out, Dana!

    • Kathryn Mader says:

      I am totally claustrophobic. Not to discourage you, but once I had an “Open” MRI for my back, and it was a horrible event. Not going to lie. In my experience, I had to lie on my back and they slid me onto a huge, thick metal disc that looked like some alien space machine. Then, from the sky, they lowered a similar huge, heavy looking disc to within one millimeter above my nose. If I yanked my eyes from side to side I could see a sliver of the room. At any moment, I felt like I was being pressed into a human panini sandwich. It was a long MRI, and I started shaking so badly that obviously they didn’t end up with a good reading. I am not exaggerating when I say it was some modern, medical form of torture…for me, I realize I’m a mental case. Now because of migraines I need not one, but three MRIs – brain, back of head and neck, and spine. I don’t think this is possible and am having panic attacks at just the idea of it.

      • Tamara Sellman says:

        Definitely ask for some kind of relaxant to get you through your tests, Kathryn. The imaging folks know a lot of ways to help people relax through these tests. Good luck!

    • Sarah says:

      I nad the Brian MRI and went to opon, it was much either. Do not listen to the tech, just find na open , it is100% easier.

    • Sarah says:

      Sorry for my typing mistakes, i was not glasses.
      But an open MRI , either the lying one or standing arę much easier to go thru.
      A lot of doctors do not recommend them, beacuse the pictures are not as clear as with the close ones. I am getting ready for another one and it has to be the close one, i am almost sure i will not be able to go thru it. I once too 5 mg valium Piła and did not work. I am having nightmares about it.

  23. Sue Douglas says:

    I am extremely claustrophobic. I have walked 25 flights to avoid an elevator. I haven’t taken an elevator in a long long time. I take the steps. I had to get off the table just for CAT scan of my brain and wait months before they could get the anesthetist to put me to sleep. My niece was in the room with me and she said all during that time I supposedly was asleep I was saying him it’s on my face it’s on my face. I live alone and I am so afraid that sometime I’m going to have to go to the ER and I don’t know if they were really listen to me if they want to put me in an MRI. I have to be asleep and I mean totally out before I can do it. Please pray that I never ever have to have one. I had an Open MRI for my hips but that wasn’t hard to do because it just went to my waist in my head was completely out.

  24. Cindy says:

    Made it! LoL, had my first MRI today for my back. Before leaving the house I took my anti anxiety med and felt confident I would have no issue, the tube was a wide bore and seemed ok…bigger than I thought. Then they slide me in and as soon as I made it to the middle I flipped out and told them I needed to get out, even scared the tech. I decided to try again and asked to go in feet first which helped me tremendously, also putting a washcloth over my eyes and not using the head phones for music as they made me more claustrophobic.

    • Tamara Sellman says:

      You did it! Glad you stuck it out, these are such important tests. I hope you treated yourself later!

  25. Sarah says:

    I am going for an MRI tomorrow. My first MRI was torture but I made it. I had one in the hospital last week with an IV sedative because I don’t breathe good on my back at all. (I am claustrophobic but my main problem is that I have a hard time just laying in bed sometimes). I was lucky that it went fine because I had to go straight back to surgery to remove a blood clot on my spine where the surgery was just performed. Now I’m going to a clinic for a follow up MRI and they gave me 5 mg Valium to take. Hopefully it works because their hoping to make out a mass on my spine now that the swelling should be down from surgery. So I reading to take them a hour before the test? Say a prayer I get through it because I have a Neurosurgeon and a Infectious Disease Dr waiting on results. Also I have to wear a hard neck brace at all times for 3 months so they didn’t put the dreaded cage over my face. They left my brace on an put something on both sides.

    • Tamara Sellman says:

      I can’t advise on using Valium but if you have any questions, your pharmacist or doctor should be able to take care of you. Good luck!

  26. PG says:

    I’m going for an MRI and am EXTREMELY claustrophobic!! I have awful anxiety just thinking about it. My Dr. gave me a 2 mg. Ativan to take. The Dr. told me to take the Ativan one hour before the test. Has anyone taken this dosage for an MRI and is an hour before a good time to take it? I hope someone has taken this med.

  27. Tiffany S. says:

    Man oh man…I have had ALLL of those experiences too. I’ve had…well ATTEMPTED an MRI (head/brain) years ago…and like everyone said “DONT OPEN YOUR EYES”…welllll..I peaked…pressed the panic button and tried to slide my way out of that chamber. I don’t remember how I did it bc it was too tight to move my arms and pull myself…but all I remember is that I “SHOT MYSELF OUT OF THAT THING”. My next MRI was an OPEN MRI…but the test and results weren’t as required. Long story short, years later…I’m going tomorrow in a closed one (“the big machine”)…and have my Valium to take (never took that before) and my eye mask (no peeking for me). Hope it helps. I’m unsure how the Valium will help, as if it only makes me sleepy…how does that help with my chronic claustrophobia?

  28. vicky says:

    I am going in on thursday for a MRI. I’ve tried going into a tube type but even with valium I couldn’t do it. I am scared to death. The, so called open scan, only has the sides open, so to me that is not an open scan. They gave me 4 tabs of Xanax, 2 about 1/2 hour before and 2 later. I am having my neck and lower back scan so I have to go in head first and it going to take 40 min. for each. Has anyone had success taking xanax verses valium? Help me…………….

    • Tamara Sellman says:

      I personally haven’t used Xanax so I cannot comment on that, but I do wish you the best of luck getting through this important procedure!

  29. Mary Grove says:

    I am wondering if it would help people to take an anti-anxiety med during the day before the scan as well as an hour ahead. Seems to me that we freak ourselves out so much worrying about the scan ahead of time, and maybe the meds we take an hour before aren’t enough to handle all those stress hormones.

    I agree with the people who say the head restraint is the really hard to deal with. My doc called the tech and radiologist and got them to agree to leave it off. They never used to use those cradles and I never had problems keeping my head still (legs are twitchier for me).

    As far as the washcloth goes, I had one slip and cover my nose and mouth — it was really bad. I have a scan tonight, having failed one where I took 15 mg of diazepam last week, so I really hope having no head restraint helps me get through it.

    I started off claustrophobic and had an MRI tech lie to me once. He said it would be the last view but kept me in the machine for another 45 minutes, refusing to respond to the panic button or my telling him I couldn’t stand it any longer. Needless to say my MRI claustrophobia has been much worse ever since.

    I tried an upright MRI machine in San Jose, CA, and it was somewhat better but not completely, as you’re still surrounded by the machine.

    For me, the machine noises sound like I’m hanging in outer space, listening to quasars and planets talking to one another. It helps to imagine that I’m floating in the midst of immense darkness.

    • Tamara Sellman says:

      Hi Mary

      It’s a good question to pose to your MS specialist. Everyone has a different anxiety level and tolerance for enclosed spaces. I’m guessing that some people might do better with more than a simple anti-anxiety drug dose just prior to MRI. Your point is well made: the waiting can be fretful enough, and that can spiral into even more anxiety!

      I’m sorry to hear you had such an insensitive tech and hope you were able to at least file a grievance.

      Glad to know that the upright machine was a little bit better; for some, that little bit might make the difference between pass or fail!

      I love your outer space “flight” during MRI, visualizations like this can be really useful for “reframing” the experience. Thanks for writing, Mary.


  30. Kara says:

    Find a place that offers open MRI’s. The difference is night and day. And take the valium. On the open mri they let my husband in the room and hold my had the entire time.

    • Tamara Sellman says:

      Kara, thanks for the suggestion of open MRIs. Also, how nice to be able to have a loved one in there the whole time. As long as they are prepped, that makes sense and seems like a great idea!

      • Martin B says:

        I work as a radiographer in an open MRI centre. We get a lot of patients who are claustrophobic or anxious in MRI and we have a really high success rate. I have only had around 4 patients who couldn’t tolerate it in 2 years. Have a look online.

  31. Denise says:

    had my first experience this morning. lasted 2 min
    panicked. going to try a sedative for next attempt Thursday. I hope it works.

  32. Ryan says:

    I’ve had two MRI’s. The first was about 12 years ago for my knee, and they slapped a wraparound headset on me. It was a TV. I watched ESPN the whole time. The last one, totally different experience. It was for my neck so no headset. First try was a closed MRI. I barely fit in (I’m 6’5” 340 pounds), and flipped out. Second try was an open MRI. No headphones, they just blasted soothing music by boom box. The tech put a Kleenex over my eyes. I felt ok, but the Kleenex fell off my face when he slid me in. I lasted a few minutes and flipped out. Final try was a stand up open MRI. I won’t say it was a breeze, your shoulders getting squeezed is not fun. But they had a TV and earplugs so I was able to put up with the noise and try to follow along with the TV. If that’s an option I would highly recommend it.

    • Tamara Sellman says:

      I would totally be distracted (in a good way) by TV. Never heard of this, but I would do it, were it offered to me. 🙂 thx for sharing!

  33. Susan says:

    It’s 2:20 am can’t sleep having MRI in morning… failed 1st attempt by panic after being in machine ( brain and cervical with and without contrast) got Dt to call in Ativan (have never taken it before) rescheduled at different imaging center. I hope this one goes better. Husband coming this time. Wish I could sleep. Will let you know outcome!

  34. George Painter says:

    Have to have a MRI,actually 2, 1 for 45 minutes and 1 for 20 minutes.
    1 hr and 5 mintutes.Not happening. I tried. They strapped my head down and my arms to my side. Never even made it inside. My Dr. prescribed 2mg of Lorazapam to take 1 hr before the MRI. I go 9 a.m.
    tomorrow morning. Wish me luck.

    P.S. Thanks for all the feed back

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *