10 Tips and Tricks for Reducing MRI Claustrophobia

Tips and tricks for reducing claustrophobia during your MRI exam

Claustrophobia, or fear of tightly enclosed spaces, is a very real thing. At UVA Radiology and Medical Imaging, we always want to help our patientsin this case, those who struggle with claustrophobia and anxiety. We’ve compiled a list of 10 tips and tricks for reducing MRI claustrophobia.

Reducing MRI Claustrophobia

Some patients who need an MRI exam are anxious about the process, fearing they will be claustrophobic in the machine. When it comes to anxiety and MRI claustrophobia, one of your most powerful tools is knowledge (click here to learn more about MRI and other imaging exams). 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. These images are crucial to your care.

Before your MRI, you should also know that some of the MRI-claustrophobia-related stories you may have heard are likely no longer accurate. Modern MRI machines are not dark, closed off tunnels. They are well-lit, 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 we recognize that MRI claustrophobia may still be an issue for some of our patients. At UVA Radiology and Medical Imaging, we understand. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of tips and tricks for reducing MRI claustrophobia and exam anxiety:

(Text-only version)

Tips and tricks for reducing claustrophobia during an MRIIf 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 for those who have extreme cases of MRI claustrophobia and anxiety. 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 your best choice for reducing MRI claustrophobia. If you need to get an MRI done, call UVA Radiology’s medical imaging specialists at (434) 924-9400 to set up a consultation today.

Infographic Text: Tips and Tricks for Reducing MRI Claustrophobia During Your 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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Dafydd AbHugh June 20, 2019 at 6:43 pm

My husband is extremely claustrophobic. He tried for two or three times, including sitting up style, MRI and failed each time. We live in southern California. Is there any facility you can refer us to which uses sedation, so that he can relax during the exam?

uvaradweb July 19, 2019 at 2:01 pm

I’m so sorry to hear about your husband’s experiences with MRI and claustrophobia. Know that his experience is not uncommon, and that most imaging centers are experienced in working with patients with claustrophobia. We can’t recommend a specific imaging center, but most have options and procedures for patients who experience claustrophobia, including sedation. We would recommend speaking with your doctor about your husband’s claustrophobia – he or she should be able to recommend an imaging center that can meet your husband’s needs.

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James Paul Demers April 12, 2021 at 3:14 pm

I have moderate claustrophobia, but was able to overcome it by keeping my eyes closed and focusing on breathing. Shallow breathing improves the images by limiting movement of the organs, so I kept my mind occupied with that (and with the occasional instructions to hold my breath entirely. I found all of the odd noises somewhat interesting, if not exactly entertaining, and paying attention to them also took my mind off of the enclosed space I was in.
I would think that putting on a blindfold while outside of the instrument, so that you never actually experience the closed environment, would be very helpful.

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