What can I do to stay comfortable during an MRI?

November 8, 2023 – 14 min read

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Has your doctor referred you for an MRI? For many, the idea of lying still inside the MRI machine, a large, enclosed tube, can cause some amount of anxiety

You might be worried about being in a confined space, the unfamiliar sounds, or how long it might take and if you’ll start to feel claustrophobic.

For those unfamiliar with MRIs, the process can be a bit intimidating. You might wonder about the space, if it’s painful, or what to expect overall. You might even wonder if anxiety itself can show up on the MRI. 

But an MRI doesn’t have to be an uncomfortable or anxious experience. Here we’ll guide you through various strategies and tips to ensure that your MRI scan is as comfortable and stress-free as possible. 

Understanding your MRI

MRI is a powerful diagnostic tool that uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to capture detailed images of the inside of the body. 

Unlike other imaging methods, MRI doesn’t use radiation, making it a safer alternative for many diagnostic needs. 

Physicians often recommend MRIs to get a clearer look at soft tissues, organs, muscles, joints, and the general internal structure of the body that might not be as visible with other imaging techniques. 

These images can be invaluable in diagnosing a variety of conditions, planning treatments, and monitoring the progression or regression of certain diseases.

What is it like to get an MRI?

Being prepared and knowing what to expect can help alleviate any concerns you might have about getting an MRI. 

During the procedure, you’ll be asked to lie down on a sliding table that goes inside a large tube-shaped machine. Once you’re in position, the machine will create a magnetic field around you. 

It’s normal to hear a series of loud knocking or thumping sounds; these noises are just the machine working to capture images. 

It’s essential to remain still during this process to ensure clear images. If you’re feeling a bit claustrophobic, remember that there are also advanced open MRI and open MRI machines available, which are designed to be less confining while still producing high-quality images.

How long does an MRI typically last?

The duration of an MRI can vary based on what specific area of the body is being examined and the details needed by the physician. 

On average, an MRI can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. Before the scan begins, the technologist will provide you with an estimate of how long it will take. 

While it might seem like a long time to lie still, many people find it helpful to use this time as an opportunity for relaxation, meditation, or just letting their mind wander.

Is the MRI process painful or invasive?

One of the great things about MRI is that it’s a non-invasive procedure, meaning it doesn’t require any incisions, injections, or any other kind of intrusion into the body. 

The MRI machine simply captures images using the magnetic field and radio waves. While the process itself is painless, some people might feel a bit uneasy due to the close quarters or the noise. 

If you’re someone who tends to feel claustrophobic, communicate your feelings to the technologist. They may provide you with headphones to listen to music or suggest an open MRI machine as an alternative. You can also talk to your doctor to see if a light sedative may help you relax.

Remember, the goal is to make you as comfortable as possible during the process.

Choosing the right clothes

When preparing for an MRI, what you wear can make a big difference – not just for the scan’s success, but for your comfort too. 

This section will guide you through selecting the appropriate clothing for your MRI, ensuring that you’re not only comfortable but also free from materials such as metals that might interfere with the machine. 

In this section, we’ll provide guidance on choosing MRI-friendly clothing that doesn’t interfere with the imaging process and helps you feel more at ease. 

Remember, your clothes can affect both your own comfort during the procedure, as well as the quality of the imaging results. 

From avoiding certain materials to choosing loose-fitting garments, we’re here to help you feel calm and comfortable.

What clothing is appropriate for an MRI?

When you’re gearing up for your MRI, it’s crucial to consider comfort alongside practicality. Ideally, you’ll want to wear loose-fitting, soft clothing. 

Think along the lines of soft cotton t-shirts, sweatpants, or leggings. These types of garments will allow you to lie still comfortably during the scan and will make the entire experience feel more relaxed. 

Moreover, wearing soft and non-restrictive clothes means you’ll be comfortable, so you can focus on staying calm and relaxed during the procedure.

How can I ensure my clothing won’t interfere with the MRI?

MRI machines work using strong magnetic fields, so you’ll need to avoid clothing with any metal components. 

This not only pertains to visible metal like zippers, snaps, or buttons, but also hidden metal, such as in some bra underwires. It’s also wise to avoid clothes with metallic threads or designs, as even these small elements can disrupt the MRI’s functioning. 

Many people don’t realize that some athletic wear can contain metallic fibers, so always double-check your chosen outfit’s material. When in doubt, choose simple clothing.

What should I avoid wearing during an MRI?

While prioritizing comfort is key, there are a few clothing items and accessories you’ll definitely want to steer clear of when preparing for your MRI. 

If you wear any jewelry, you’ll likely be asked to remove it before the scan begins.

Watches, hairpins, and even some makeup products with metallic elements should be avoided. 

If you’re unsure about a particular garment or accessory, it’s always a good rule of thumb to leave it at home, or to ask the MRI technologists for guidance when you arrive for your appointment.

Communicating with your imaging team

Your MRI experience can be greatly improved by effective communication with your imaging team

These professionals are there to ensure your safety and comfort, and to get the best possible images for accurate results. 

They are there to guide and support you throughout the entire procedure. So, don’t hesitate to share your concerns or ask any questions you might have. 

In this section, we’ll explore the questions you should ask, when and how to bring up any concerns you might have, and how to get the valuable information you need to feel comfortable during your MRI. 

Why is it crucial to inform the team about any implants or devices I might have?

Open communication with your imaging team is pivotal, especially when it comes to metal implants or devices in your body. 

MRI machines use powerful magnetic fields to produce images, and any metal objects can react to these fields, as mentioned above. 

This reaction could distort the images, making them less useful for diagnostic purposes. Moreover, in some cases, the metal might heat up or move, which can be potentially unsafe. 

Informing your team about devices like pacemakers, cochlear implants, joint replacements, or even dental implants can ensure that they take necessary precautions to ensure your safety.

Can I ask for a blanket or cushion for added comfort?

Your comfort is a priority during an MRI scan. If you feel that a blanket or cushion might help you stay more relaxed and cozy, don’t hesitate to ask. 

Many imaging centers have these items on hand specifically for patient comfort. Your imaging team will do everything they can to make the experience as comfortable as possible for you.

How can the imaging team support me during the scan?

Your imaging team is trained not only in the technical aspects of the MRI but also in patient care. 

Before the scan, they can answer any questions you might have, explain the process, or even offer tips to help you relax. 

During the MRI, you’ll typically have a way to communicate with them, often through an intercom system. They’ll check on you periodically, and some facilities might offer headphones with music or guided relaxation exercises to help pass the time. 

Your team is there to support you every step of the way, ensuring the procedure goes smoothly and you’re at ease.

What should I do if I feel discomfort during the procedure?

If at any point during the MRI you feel discomfort or anxiety, it’s vital to let your team know right away. 

Whether it’s a physical discomfort like an itch or a muscle cramp or emotional distress like claustrophobia, the team can offer solutions or even pause the scan if needed. 

After all, your well-being and comfort throughout the MRI process is vital.

Staying calm during your MRI

It’s completely natural for the unfamiliar environment and sounds of the MRI machine to trigger some jitters. Your peace of mind is perhaps one of the most important parts of your MRI experience.

Therefore, staying calm during your MRI is crucial for both clear images and your personal comfort. Remember, the procedure itself is painless and non-invasive. 

In the next section, we’ll delve into effective strategies and tips to help you feel calm and peaceful throughout the procedure.

Why is it essential to stay still during the MRI?

Remaining still during your MRI is paramount for obtaining clear and precise images. 

Movements, even minor ones, can cause blurring or distortions in the images––which means you’ll need to do the scan again.

Clear images are crucial for your physician to make accurate diagnoses and recommendations. So by staying still, you help ensure the process is as short and efficient as possible. 

What can help me relax during my MRI?

Before your appointment, consider practicing techniques that help you relax. Visualization exercises can be very effective. 

Imagine a peaceful and happy place, such as a serene beach or a quiet forest. Focus on this place during your scan. 

Some people also find it helpful to repeat a calming phrase in their mind. 

Alternatively, you can also do a full body relaxation exercise, starting from your toes and moving up, consciously relaxing each part of your body in sequence.

How can I practice deep breathing to remain calm?

Deep breathing is a fantastic technique to calm the mind and relax the body. 

Here’s a simple method to practice:

  1. Inhale slowly: Breathe in through your nose for a count of four. Feel the air filling your lungs and your belly rising.
  2. Hold your breath: Once you’ve inhaled, hold your breath for a count of four. This pause allows your body to absorb the oxygen.
  3. Exhale: Slowly breathe out through your mouth for a count of six, focusing on releasing any tension. 
  4. Repeat: Continue this pattern for a few minutes, or throughout your MRI. 

This technique can help shift your focus away from any anxiety or discomfort, and give you a sense of calm.

Can I listen to music or a podcast during the MRI?

Many imaging centers allow patients to listen to music or podcasts during the MRI to help them relax and pass the time. 

The technologists might offer headphones or earplugs that are MRI-safe. 

Some people create special playlists just for their MRI — a mix of favorite tunes that boost mood and encourage relaxation. If you have a specific playlist or podcast episode in mind, it’s a good idea to mention this beforehand, so arrangements can be made. 

Whatever you choose, it should be something that helps distract you in a positive way and makes the experience more pleasant.

After your MRI

So you’ve successfully navigated through the MRI procedure – what comes next? As you move forward, it’s essential to know what to expect after the scan and how to interpret the results.

In the following section, we’ll discuss the typical post-MRI process, including potential next steps and how your results will be communicated to you. 

Whether it’s understanding your images, scheduling follow-up appointments, or any other aspects, we’re here to help you. Let’s take a closer look at what lies ahead.

What should I expect immediately after the scan?

Once your MRI scan is complete, the technologist will let you know, and you’ll be assisted out of the machine. 

Typically, you should feel just as you did before the MRI—there are no immediate physical effects from the scan itself. 

If you were given a contrast agent, the site where it was injected might have a small bandage. 

Afterwards, you’ll get dressed, and then go about your day. Most people are able to resume their regular activities right away. 

If you felt anxious or tense during the MRI, take a few moments to stretch, take some deep breaths, and reorient yourself before heading out.

Are there any side effects I should know about?

If a contrast agent was used during your scan, there are a few things you might want to watch out for. 

A small number of individuals might experience mild side effects from the contrast agent, like a headache, nausea, or dizziness. These symptoms are usually temporary and resolve on their own. 

If you notice any unusual reactions or if any symptoms persist, it’s essential to reach out to your physician. 

When can I expect the results? How will I get them?

The timeline for receiving MRI results can vary based on the facility and the nature of the scan. 

In many cases, a radiologist will review the images from your MRI and provide a report to your healthcare provider within a few days.* Your doctor will then discuss the findings with you, either during a scheduled follow-up appointment or over the phone. 

Always feel free to ask your technologist or doctor about the expected wait time for your results. 

Remember, while it’s natural to feel eager (or even anxious) to hear the results, each image requires careful analysis to ensure an accurate diagnosis. 

Your healthcare team will do their best to provide you with detailed and timely feedback.

How to schedule an MRI appointment with Us

Reach out to us at American Health Imaging, and we’ll help you schedule an appointment at an imaging center near you, today. 

We offer large-opening and short-tube MRI scans to ensure that you’re always comfortable in our care.

We’re here to help you get the answers you need.

Frequently asked questions

What is the purpose of an MRI?

An MRI provides detailed images of internal structures, helping doctors diagnose and monitor various medical conditions.

MRI scans usually last between 15 minutes to 90 minutes, depending on the type and area being imaged.

Wear loose, comfortable clothing without any metal components, such as zippers, buttons, and fasteners, and made of fabric without metallic microfibers such as anti-bacterial or odor-fighting materials.

Opt for clothes made of pure fabric, avoiding those with metallic threads, and ensure you don’t wear any jewelry.

Metal objects can interfere with the MRI machine and may pose risks such as burns, so it’s essential for safety and image quality to inform the team.

Yes, many facilities offer blankets or cushions to increase comfort, and it’s always okay to ask.

Movement can blur the images, which may lead to inaccurate results or the need for a rescan.

Many MRI facilities allow patients to listen to music or podcasts to help them relax during the scan, but always check in advance.