8 Feb, 2022

MRI Scans and claustrophobia: are open scanners the answer?

Are you unsure of what to expect during your MRI scan? Feeling nervous is understandable, especially if you've never had an MRI before. 

The reassurance that MRI scans are safe and non-invasive is often enough to put most people at ease. However, if you struggle with claustrophobia, you might be left wondering how you'll get through your scan. 

At National MRI Scan, our mission is to make medical imaging accessible to everyone, including people with claustrophobia. 

Unfortunately, a quarter of claustrophobics would rather leave a medical condition untreated than undergo an MRI scan. We can change this statistic, with modern 'open' machines, which are not routinely available within the NHS

What is claustrophobia?
Claustrophobia is defined as a fear of confined spaces, and an estimated 10% of people in the UK experience it during their lifetime. Alongside anxious feelings, claustrophobia can cause physical symptoms such as hot flushes, shortness of breath, and dizziness.
What happens during a traditional MRI scan, and why can it cause claustrophobia?
Claustrophobia within an MRI setting is more common than you might think, affecting between 1% and 15% of all patients scheduled for MR imaging.

Traditional MRI scanners are cylinder-shaped, and patients lie on a motorized flat bed that is moved in and out of the tube. The walls of the scanner contain strong magnets, which must surround the patient to capture clear images of their body. This is usually the reason why MRI scans make some people feel claustrophobic.

Depending on the body part being scanned, you will enter the scanner either head first or feet first. The length of each scan also varies between 15-90 minutes based on the size of the area being scanned.

The process can be quite noisy, and you will hear loud clicking, buzzing, and ringing caused by coiled wires expanding and contracting as electrical currents pass through them. You will be provided with headphones and/or earplugs for your scan, and you can usually choose the music you want to listen to.
What is an open MRI scanner, and how can it help with claustrophobia?
Open MRI scanners use the same magnetic technology as their predecessors, but they are newer machines with open sides.
This means the scanner is less like a tube, and more like an arc, or will have magnets above and below you instead of all around you. This means you will be able to see outside the scanner into the room, and the level of noise is significantly reduced.
Some open scanners are also upright, allowing patients to sit or stand during the scan.

The rising demand for open scanners has driven down the cost of the equipment, but these types of scan are comparatively more expensive than traditional MRI scans. They also are less commonly available on the NHS, and sedation is usually offered instead of an open scan unless you seek private care.
📢 We offer self-book open MRI scans at two locations, without the need for NHS referral.
Tips for overcoming MRI claustrophobia
Whether you decide to have a traditional or open MRI scan, there are several coping strategies you can use to reduce anxiety and beat your MRI claustrophobia.
  • Communication
Tell our team if you are claustrophobic when booking your scan, and communicate with your radiographer on the day. If your consultant knows about your claustrophobia, they will be better equipped to support you.
Communication doesn't have to stop when the scan begins. You will be given a call button to attract attention, and your radiographer will monitor you throughout via a screen. You will also be able to hear the technician's voice through your headphones or speakers within the scanner.
  • Meditation and mindfulness
It might seem counterintuitive to meditate while you're feeling anxious or stressed, but even simple tactics like deep breathing and closing your eyes can help alleviate worry.
  • Choose audio that you will enjoy
Many MRI providers will allow you to bring your a CD or audio device to play during your scan. You might benefit from being engrossed in an audiobook or podcast, or perhaps you want to listen to your choice of relaxing or uplifting music. You might even decide to queue up some guided meditation tracks to help you stay calm throughout the scan.
  • Bring an eye mask
Depending on the body part being scanned, it might be possible to wear an eye mask. Blocking out your view of the scanner can help you feel more comfortable, and it might also allow your mind to wander rather focus on the MRI process. This can also be useful if you want to try any breathing exercises or meditations.
  • Invite a supportive friend or family member
Depending on the clinic you visit, you may be able to bring a companion with you, who can wait with you ahead of your scan and meet you afterwards. Having a supportive companion can help reduce anxiety in the lead-up to your scan, and they can offer reassurance once the scan is complete.

MRI is one of the most important medical innovations for understanding and assessing health concerns. While scans can be daunting for people with claustrophobia, there are plenty of options available to ensure you benefit from diagnostic imaging.
Next Steps:

Sources used:







https://radiology.ucsf.edu/patient-care/prepare/claustrophobia-mri https://blog.radiology.virginia.edu/reducing-mri-claustrophobia/



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