My tips for having an MRI scan

Tue 01 August 2017

Nicola Andrews

I was diagnosed with MS in 2014 and MRI scans have become routine. They helped with my diagnosis, and since then I’ve had two more (two brain and two spinal).

Before my first ever MRI scan all I could think about was a dark tunnel and claustrophobia. I had fears of being unable to breathe and move. To say I was worried about it would be an understatement.

In all honesty, it wasn’t at all as bad as I had first imagined. Now I don't even think twice about them. In fact I see them as a great way of keeping track of the activity of my MS, so the doctors can help me choose the right treatment.

If you’re having an MRI scan here’s some tips that may help.

1. Remember scanners are wider than you think

You're not crammed into this tiny little tunnel like popular belief and there is also an opening at both the top and bottom. They will also give you a panic button and talk to you through an intercom now and again. So rest assured you will not feel totally isolated and can push the button if you feel scared or panicky.

2. Don’t be frightened by the frame

This is a large contraption they place over your head, with pads at the sides of your ears. This is only to keep you as still as possible so they can get a good clear reading.

3. Relaxation techniques

When I was in the scanner for the first time I tried to relax my body and focus on my breathing. I breathed in through my nose for 5 seconds and then out through my mouth for 5 seconds. Without even noticing after about 5 minutes I didn't need to count anymore. I was feeling much more relaxed and breathing normally, and feeling relaxed helped any fearful thoughts slip away.

4. It’s noisy

This one I cannot lie about. You hear every click and buzz that the machine makes. They give you some earplugs to help drown it out but my own personal trick is to close my eyes, try and relax and think about winning the lottery. Or quietly sing to myself. (I may sound like a screeching cat but it gets me through it!)

5. Wear sensible underwear

You’ll need this if you get one of those dashing gowns that gape at the back! I’ve been in different MRI machines though and with some you are fully clothed. So make sure you wear comfortable clothes for lying down in.

6. Ask for a blanket

If they don’t give you one, ask for one, as it can get cold.

7. About the contrast dye injection

I felt a bit worried about having the injection, but it’s just like giving a routine blood sample and it’s over within seconds. The dye helps makes it easier to understand the image on your scan. (You can read more about the contrast dye injection on NHS Choices – it’s the second section on the page.)

8. Let the radiographers know if you are nervous

They will talk you through it all and during my first MRI it most certainly helped me relax. Now the scans are just wee buns (i.e. a piece of cake)!

About Nicola

Nicola is a pizza-loving, shoe-addicted Harry Potter nerd. She lives in Belfast with her husband Robert and border terrier Lexie. She was diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS in 2014.