How do I deal with claustrophobia?

By Alyssa Speicher August 2, 2017

Claustrophobia, or fear of tightly enclosed spaces, is a real thing, and at UVA Radiology and Medical Imaging, we want to recognize when our patients struggle with claustrophobia and help them through their exam. We’ve compiled a list of tips and tricks for dealing with any claustrophobia you may have while in our care.


Some patients who need an MRI exam are anxious about their exam and fear that they will be claustrophobic in the MRI machine. When it comes to anxiety and claustrophobia, one of your most powerful tools is knowledge. Learn about what an MRI is and why you need one. If your doctor ordered an MRI exam, it is because they need images of the inside of your body to diagnose and treat your condition properly. The benefits of having these images are crucial to your care.

Before your MRI, you should also know that some of the claustrophobia-related stories you may have heard about MRIs might no longer be valid. MRI machines are no longer dark, closed off tunnels. Our machines are lit, ventilated and open on both sides of the tunnel, and they are wider than they once were. We also have an MRI machine that isn’t a tunnel at all, but has open sides so that you can see the examination room.

But even after you know that the MRI is necessary for your healthcare and that the MRI machines are more open than they used to be, claustrophobia may still be an issue. At UVA Radiology and Medical Imaging, we understand. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of tips and tricks on how to manage your claustrophobia and exam anxiety for your MRI:

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Tips for Reducing ClaustrophobiaIf none of these techniques have worked in the past, or if you think they will not work for you during future exams, sedation is available to extreme cases of claustrophobia. However, this sedation will not put you to sleep, it will only help you relax for the duration of your exam. Talk to your doctor to see if sedation is the best choice for you.





Infographic Text: Tips and Tricks for Reducing Claustrophobia During Your MRI Exam
  • Learn: Be aware of what will happen during the exam. Familiarize yourself with the machine, its noises, and exam procedures. Ask your scheduler, doctor, and technologist any questions you have as they arise. Knowledge can be empowering.
  • Focus on breathing: As simple as it is, focused breathing and other meditation techniques have a calming effect for most people.
  • Cover your face: Covering your face with a towel or washcloth or simply keeping your eyes close can help you feel as if you are at home or in a different space. You can’t see where you are so you are less likely to feel trapped.
  • Listen to music: In some cases, you are able to listen to music through headphones during your exam. This can help distract and calm you.
  • Try your own technique: If you already know something works for you, such as aromatherapy or a certain sound or image, ask if you would be able to use your own technique during the exam.
  • Talk to your tech: You are never alone! Your tech can talk to you and you can talk to your tech throughout the exam. You’ll even have a call button that will signal your tech in case of emergency or discomfort. They will also give you updates as to where you are in the exam process!
  • Count: Another simple techniques is counting. The monotony can be soothing, and if you count slowly, it can pass the time quicker than you might think!
  • Go to your “happy place”: This may sound silly, but if you think through the details of your “happy place” or the details of a good memory or a complex process, it can effectively distract you.
  • Bring Support: You can bring a friend or a family member to be with you during your exam. Sometimes they can even be in the room with you. Be sure it’s someone who understands you and calms you.
  • Remind yourself who’s in control: You are always in control of your exam. You will not have to do anything you are not comfortable with and our technologists will help you with any calming technique you choose. Be sure to also look into the open MRI and sedation options UVA offers.

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