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19 Things People Wish They Knew Before Getting an MRI

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Editor's Note

Any medical information included is based on a personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health, please consult a doctor or medical professional.

If you’ve never had an MRI before (and perhaps even if you have), the idea of it might send your worries into overdrive. MRIs are used to help your doctor diagnose illnesses and check on the health of various organs, and it’s one of the more common diagnostic tests out there. But it’s infamous for being, let’s say, not exactly comfortable. When you get an MRI you’ll lie on a table inside a large tube (head first or feet first). You’ll have to lie inside the tube between 20 and 90 minutes while the machine uses a magnetic field to take pictures of your body.

Although there are some people out there who don’t mind getting MRIs (and there’s certainly no guarantee you’ll have a negative experience!), others find the procedure uncomfortable and anxiety-inducing, and may wish they had a better understanding of what it’s like and how they can make it more tolerable before “going in.” We asked our Mighty community to share something they wish they knew before they got an MRI. Hopefully these insights from people who have “been there, done that” will help make your next MRI more manageable, and don’t forget to ask your doctor and the MRI technicians any questions you have before the procedure.

Here’s what our community shared with us:

1. It Can Be Hard to Keep Still

“I wasn’t expecting it to be so hard to keep still. My muscles were twitching and my body got very restless.” — Andie G.

“I wish I knew how still you had to be, even with restless legs and neuropathy in my feet.” — Christa R.

“You can’t move a muscle. I have anxiety and mild claustrophobia, so I need to move my hands, feet or something to stay calm. Nope, couldn’t move a muscle for two hours.” — Jordyn A.

2. You May Be Injected With Dye That Helps the Doctor See Your Body Better

“I wish I’d had more time to prepare for the weird sensation I get from the dye they inject me with. Makes you feel like you’ve wet yourself, when you haven’t at all. They told me about 30 seconds before my first MRI, and it was confronting!” — Sarah M.

“[I wish I knew] they inject you with the dye. Maybe that’s common knowledge to most people but I had no clue what the guy was talking about when he brought the needle out.” — Alisha B.

3. You Might Feel Claustrophobic

“I got a little dizzy/claustrophobic with my eyes closed; opening my eyes and finding a focus point helped a lot and I was able to calm down and close my eyes without much issue.” — Kate B.

“I wish I would have known that I would be having to have my head in a tiny cage. I have horrible claustrophobia and was very unprepared for that!” — Catherine M.

“If you have any chance of being claustrophobic, let them know! Also, ear plugs work wonders for the noises the machine makes.” — Amy B.

4. You Can Listen to Music

“They could play music through the headphones! I’d literally been humming along to the beats from the noise of the machine when I could have been singing along to Beyoncé.” — Erica T.

“The noises were the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced. I wish I had been warned. It really gave me the worst anxiety and they didn’t tell me that they could play music.” — Hana C.

5. And It’s Important to Pick the Right Music

“Don’t put on music that will make you want to dance. I had a hard enough time laying still without the fun pop music.” — Elisabeth W.

“Don’t listen to sad music. If you cry you can’t blow your nose and then you feel like you’re suffocating.” — Kelly M.

6. The Machine Is Loud

“I wish I knew how loud the clicking/banging would be with my head in the machine. Others had told me it wasn’t a big deal and they pretty much fell asleep, but were in feet first! Pick a music that has a tone that would help drown it out — bagpipes are a good balance!” — Keely I.

“I wish I knew how loud it was going to be.” — Triss H.

“They’re super loud, but don’t worry! When you think it’s too noisy and are about to panic and give up and press the button to stop it, it’s coming to an end. Stick with it. It’s worth it in the long run!” — Alexandra B.

7. You Might Prefer to Keep Your Eyes Closed

“[I wish I knew] I could wear a sleep mask. Accidentally opened my eyes and that caused some anxiety. Since then I always wear one in.” — Sheri S.

“[I wish I knew] not to open my eyes during it!” — Sheryl F.

“Keep my eyes closed! The whole time… then it is a breeze.” — Maggie M.

8. Medication to Calm Anxiety May Be an Option

“Medication is an option to help with anxiety during the MRI.” — Chris M.

“You can ask the doctor to prescribe you a dose of anxiety medication or something to relax you during it! Even if you don’t regularly get anxiety meds… Holding still was extremely difficult because of my chronic pain, but the worst was the anxiety during the scan. It isn’t a scary procedure in itself, but if you have anxiety already and are prone to panic attacks — the closed space combined with loud noise for an extended period of time can be terrifying. I would have opted to take an anxiety medicine beforehand and deal with my pain later if I’d have known.” — Kathryn A.

Editor’s note: Talk with your doctor before starting or stopping medication.

9. Use the Bathroom Before It Starts

“Depending on what you need it for, you can be in there for hours, so go pee first and don’t drink a lot before the scan if you’re having a larger portion of your body scanned and for the love of God, if you’re on laxatives don’t take them until the scan is over.” — Jamie H.

10. It Can Be Very Bright

“Everyone comments on the noise and oh wow it is loud, but it is also super bright. I only had my eyes open for a few moments but the bright white light still hurt my eyes and gave me a migraine, even with my eyelids squeezed shut. If I had another one I would bring an eye mask.” — Mattea S.

11. Get a Copy of Your Results

“Always get a copy of your images! Being able to compare images is helpful, radiologists miss things all the time, and [people with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome] also have a higher instance of Chiari malformation which is missed by the majority of radiologists and neurologists. Back when I had my first CTs and MRIs I was a teen, post concussion and multiple head injuries. I never knew I could get a copy of my records or images.” — Dani B.

12. You Can Ask to Be Told When It’s OK to Move

“Ask the tech to let you know when it’s OK to scratch your nose! As soon as you aren’t allowed to move, something always ends up being incredibly itchy… typically your nose. Even though you can hear when the machine is scanning I was always too scared to move to scratch my nose, lest I mess up the next scan in some way. I’ve recently started asking the tech to tell me when I’m safe to scratch away and ironically, my nose rarely itches anymore!” — Jessica R.

13. You Might Be Able to Use Pillows and Blankets

“I wish I knew that, depending on what is getting scanned, you can ask for an extra pillow or wedge to support parts of your body that are uncomfortable or hurt.” — Naomi B.

“[I wish I knew] how freaking cold it is in that thing! When they offer you a blanket… take it!” — Tammy E.

“It’s freezing in the MRI room. Don’t be shy to ask for a blanket or two so you can be more comfortable.” — Farina L.

14. Laying on the Table Might Hurt

“I wish I knew how much it would physically pain me to keep still for that long.” — Rachel M.

“Knowing how much laying on that table would hurt with chronic back pain. I would have prepared better by taking pain medication beforehand.” — Jessica Z.

15. Choose the Right Hairstyle

“I wish I would’ve known that having my hair in my usual ponytail was a terrible idea. It caused pressure on the back of my head from laying on it, and I couldn’t move to fix it.” — Meg S.

“[I wish I knew] how wearing my hair in a braid was a horrible idea for the two hours I was in there.” — Kelsey L.

16. There Are Different Types of MRI Machines

“You could ask for an open MRI. Honestly those things are a godsend for bigger people, and people with anxiety/claustrophobia. It was so much better than the closed one!” — Tamara W.

“Track down a modern, wide bore MRI. You get almost a foot more clearance than a traditional MRI, and better images than you will from an open MRI (they have lower Tesla strength).” — Shannon S.

“There are standing MRIs and they are needed to detect Chiari malformation. Who knows what else they are good for.” — Sarah S.

Editor’s note: Talk with your doctor about which MRI machine is best for you.

17. You Can Bring a Friend to Sit With You

“It’s not really as horrible as you think, I was terrified for years and I am very claustrophobic, but I closed my eyes before I went in and didn’t open them until I was out and just focused on the music and breathing. I was also allowed to have my sister sitting beside my feet and have her hand on them and that helps a lot!” — Eydis A.

18. Getting Results Can Take a While

“[I wish I knew] that you would sit on pins and needles for six months to ensure the white matter lesions are multiple sclerosis or from the migraines. It was scary.” — Tamara W.

“[I wish I knew] how long the results can take. Other than that I find it very relaxing listening to a bit of music and having a lie down.” — Samantha F.

19. It May Not Be as Bad as You Expect

“I’m a bit of a weirdo, I really like MRI scans! I find them really relaxing, even the noise they make. I’m always disappointed when they stop! I’ve had so many of them, I know some people may feel claustrophobic, I totally get that. Like I say I must be a bit odd if I enjoy them!” — Andy B.

“I typically fall asleep during mine.” — Kathy B.

“It’s not as bad as I thought it would be. It’s just difficult to hold still for that long.” — Megan M.

Originally published: April 20, 2018
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