How to Reduce MRI Anxiety


The thought of having to undergo an MRI imaging study causes varying degrees of emotional distress for some patients. Symptoms range from mild anxiety to extreme panic attacks. The thought of lying perfectly still in an enclosed space that reverberates with deafening noise also instills fear and panic in someone suffering from claustrophobia. There are methods that individuals might consider to help alleviate the symptoms of rising stress.

Deep Breathing

One method involves controlled breathing exercises, which one should practice prior to their appointment. Take a slow, deep breath through your nose while counting to 10. Exhale slowly through your mouth for another count of 10. Repeat the exercise until your count becomes progressively slower. When the appointment day arrives, start the technique before entering the machine and continue slow breathing until the image study finishes.

Guided Imagery

Some prefer diverting their thought processes using guided imagery to relax. Imagine a joy-filled time in your life or perhaps being in an idyllic location. Practice seeing every minute detail of the scene. While the medical staff prepare you for the study, go to that special place in your head. It might be helpful to practice the breathing and imagery techniques in a room filled with distractions to train your ability to focus.

Musical Diversion

Many medical facilities provide patients with the option of listening to music through headphones as the MRI device performs the necessary scans. Music libraries offered often contain a wide variety of selections ranging from classical to heavy metal. Patients might consider calling the radiology department in advance or ask your physician if the medical center provides this option.

Herbal Relaxants

Perhaps you are not confident in your ability to remain cool, calm and focused. But, at the same time you prefer not taking prescription medications. Kava, passionflower and valerian are all OTC herbal supplements known to ease the symptoms of mild to moderate anxiety. Kava and passionflower are available in capsules, tablets or bulk herbs to make teas. Valerian is commonly used as a muscle relaxant and to induce sleep in insomnia sufferers. Some claim the herb alleviates the fear associated with claustrophobia.

Learn the MRI Types

Newer designs in MRI machines are less frightening looking and less encapsulating. Take the time to research the type of machine that the medical facility uses. Newer models include the:

• Semi-open high-field MRI scanner, which features a shortened tunnel and more open ends. The system is designed to accommodate only the specific region of the body requiring imaging.

• Open low-field scanner looks like a massive letter C consisting of a top and bottom enlarged disc areas, which are connected by a side slanting pillar.

• Advanced open scanners are extremely high tech devices that are capable of scanning patients in prone, sitting or standing positions.

Cite this page: N., Sam M.S., "How to Reduce MRI Anxiety," in, February 21, 2016, (accessed September 30, 2022).