5 Ways Radiology Technologists Reduce Patient Claustrophobia During MRI Scans

5 Ways Radiology Technologists Reduce Patient Claustrophobia During MRI Scans


Physicians strive to prevent distress in patients at every turn, but between 4 and 30 percent of patients who undergo MRI scans still report some level of anxiety. This isn’t just a problem for patients; claustrophobic reactions can add considerable time to MRI scans, and can even adversely affect clinical findings through lower-quality images.


Even worse, according to a 2007 article published in the Journal of Magnetic Resonance Imaging, claustrophobic patients abort around 2 million MRI scans around the world every year. That deprives physicians of much-needed diagnostic images.  


The good news is that radiologists and technologists have developed interventions that can help to reduce claustrophobic reactions leading up to and during the procedure. As the first point of contact with patients, referring physicians can help lay the groundwork for a comfortable, anxiety-free patient experience by explaining how technologists can help alleviate their fears as soon as a patient expresses trepidation about the upcoming imaging exam.


To that effect, here are some of the latest techniques and strategies physicians can explain to nervous patients when they refer them for an MRI scan:


  1. The first step to treating anxiety is to recognize that it is occurring, and technologists are trained to look for signs of discomfort throughout the entire patient interaction.


A 2013 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine used both subjective self-reports before and after the procedure to gauge patient anxiety. The researchers also measured electro-physiological reactions during the entirety of the study scan. Their findings suggest that patients tend to be most anxious at the beginning of the scan, as they enter the MRI bore. Then their distress usually diminishes throughout the course of the procedure.


Physicians can explain that patients might feel nervous or unable to complete the MRI scan at the beginning, but that once they’re through that portion of the scan, they’ll likely begin to feel more calm.


However, patients should know that technologists are aware of the patient’s experience, and are committed to keeping them comfortable. Imaging staff listen for verbal cues of patient anxiety — from an explicit admission of fear to a tremor in the voice — and will move quickly to help a patient through a moment of panic.


Technologists also watch their patients’ eyes; people with claustrophobia might glance nervously at the scanner’s bore or else avoid looking at the machinery altogether. Other indications of anxiety that technologists watch for include blanching or flushing in the patient’s face; reluctance to follow simple instructions; sweating; or reports of tachycardia.


Physicians can help to prepare nervous patients for a better experience at the imaging center by assuring them that the imaging staff is aware of, and responsive to, any discomfort they might feel, and that they will pause the procedure at the patient’s request.  


  1. Patients should know that the choice to go through with an MRI scan is entirely within their power; technologists will never try to coerce them to go through with a procedure they decide to delay.


Ultimately, health care choices belong to the patient. If patients express anxiety about an upcoming MRI scan, physicians can assure them of this fact. They can explain that the patient can choose to forego a scan at any point during the treatment process.


By including this comforting information in an explanation of the health benefits of the MR images, physicians both place the nexus of control within the patient while also gently encouraging them to undergo the procedure for the sake of their health.   


  1. Technologists provide detailed, thorough explanations to patients before entering the examination room.


Patients who know what to expect are less likely to become anxious. But technologists also use their pre-scan conversations to build healthy clinical relationships with patients. It’s important for patients to know that their technologists are friendly, understanding, competent, and utterly trustworthy. Early conversations help to create this welcoming atmosphere.


Physicians can lay the groundwork for a successful imaging procedure by assuring their patients of the technologist’s positive attributes. That’s why it’s so valuable for physicians to work with preferred imaging providers, building relationships and trust that they use to help reassure patients who might be uncomfortable with the procedure. It’s all part of the patient-centered approach that Precise Imaging practices.


  1. There are multiple distraction-based interventions that have documented history of helping patients through their anxiety when they enter the scanner bore.


The authors of Pinpointing Moments of High Anxiety During an MRI Examination, the study from the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, seem hopeful about in-bore audiovisual systems that could distract patients during moments of anxiety — perhaps by allowing them to experience favorite TV shows or movies during the exam. The researchers also point to the use of prism glasses, which provide mirrors that allow patients to see outside of the bore, even as they lay flat for the procedure.


However, even something as simple as placing a soft cloth over the patient’s eyes can help alleviate claustrophobia, writes technologist Thomas Rotunda, BSMI, BSHA, R.T.(R)(MR)(QM), in a recent edition of the journal Radiologic Technology.


This practice “is a basic way to combat claustrophobia because it helps patients ignore how close the inside of the scanner is to their faces, which likely makes them feel less confined,” Rotunda writes.


  1. Newer scanning technology can be incredibly effective in reducing claustrophobia among patients.


One of the most powerful changes that imaging centers can make is to update their equipment, and that’s been true for a decade. A seminal 2007 study in the Journal of Magnetic Resonance Imaging found that the latest MRI scanners, which reduced noise in-bore noise by 97 percent while also featuring a shorter bore than previous models, could reduce the incidence rate of claustrophobia by three times.


Physicians can reduce the expectation of anxiety in their patients by explaining the changes that have taken place since the old days of narrow bores and loud machines. Managing patient expectation will go a long way toward reducing claustrophobia and anxiety, which will lead to greater outcomes for patients.


Call Precise Imaging at 800-558-2223 to discuss advanced imaging equipment available and anxiety-reduction options, or to make a referral.




Dewey M, Schink T, Dewey C. Claustrophobia During Magnetic Resonance Imaging: Cohort Study in Over 55,000 Patients. Journal of Magnetic Resonance Imaging. November 2007; 26(5):1322-1327. Available from: Wiley Online Library. Accessed November 2, 2017.


Melendez J, McCrank E. Anxiety-related reactions associated with magnetic resonance imaging examinations. JAMA, The Journal Of The American Medical Association [serial online]. 1993;(6):745. Available from: General OneFile, Ipswich, MA. Accessed November 2, 2017.


Minde D, Klaming L, Weda H. Pinpointing Moments of High Anxiety During an MRI Examination. International Journal Of Behavioral Medicine [serial online]. June 2014;21(3):487-495. Available from: CINAHL Plus with Full Text, Ipswich, MA. Accessed November 2, 2017.


Rotunda T. Reducing Occurrences of MR-related Claustrophobia in Patients With PTSD. Radiologic Technology [serial online]. September 2017;89(1):97-99. Available from: CINAHL Plus with Full Text, Ipswich, MA. Accessed November 2, 2017.