Fighting MRI Fatigue
Last updated: August 2023
Throughout my life, I have always been affectionately labeled as "accident-prone." Maybe it was because of the time I broke my leg skiing and needed a couple of surgeries to put it back together. Or from the time I crashed a moped in Bermuda with my best friend on the back, landed us both in the ER, and left with a plaster souvenir on my arm. Who knows?! But thanks to my many colorful adventures, I had already had several MRIs of various different body parts when I was diagnosed with MS.
The discomfort of a brain and spine MRI
I used to not care about MRIs at all. Heck, sometimes I even fell asleep! Now, I know the glory of the brain/triple spine MRI with and without contrast, and along the way, I have stopped appreciating being shoved into a tube. My legs now insist on spasming, my bladder refuses to give it a rest for a couple of hours, and the pressure points on my back and head get so painful that I have actually cried. A couple of years ago, the accident-prone, no-pain-no-gain version of myself may have rolled her eyes at someone insisting an MRI could be that awful. Now I know better!
Did you know that MS actually stands for "multiple scans?" I'm totally kidding, but it sure does feel that way at times. As clinicians, we live and breathe MRI results. They are the best tool that we have for measuring how our patients are doing, if the medications are working, and monitoring for serious conditions like PML.
Silent damage is when an MRI shows some new lesions but the patient has no new symptoms. In response, a doctor may hold off on changing medicines since it seems like a fairly benign change and because the patient outwardly is no different then they were at the last visit.
But I've heard some doctors suggest that the goal of therapy should be to aggressively try to stop this silent damage from occurring in the first place. Because once the patient develops a big enough lesion that does cause symptoms, then you have let the proverbial horse out of the barn. That, of course, is only one view of how to manage this. But the point I'm trying to make is that MRIs are extremely important when it comes to tracking our patients' progress.
MRIs feel like a necessary evil
So I, as a patient, have concluded that MRIs are a necessary evil. Important, but not fun. However, I have come up with a few strategies that have actually really helped me fight the dread and fatigue that can come with MRIs:
I found out that my radiology location can plug in my iPod and play a custom playlist. I now have a great MRI playlist that both distracts and calms me.
2. Find my "zen"
I've never been very good at meditation or yoga or any other relaxing activity really (I need to work on that), but I do love a good massage. When I can, I get one the day before my MRI. Then when it's time for my scan, my muscles are a little bit more relaxed and less inclined to jump around. Also, when I'm in the MRI machine, I try to relive the massage head to toe and try to relax each muscle as I go...much like you do in meditation.
3. Speak up!
Now that I know I get those painful pressure points on my back and on the back of my head, I let the radiologist know and they have been able to pad those areas a little better. Tell them if there is anything they can do to position you more comfortably, and push that button if you get too hot or too cold.
So in summary, being a musical, zen, loudmouth has helped me fight my MRI fatigue and anxiety. I haven't tried taking sedating medicine because I usually drive myself to and from my appointments, but many of my patients have. It's important to communicate with your doctor if you do experience anxiety during MRIs.
Work with your doctor or nurse to make it more comfortable
Most importantly, if you ever do experience MRI fatigue or anxiety, try talking to your doctor or your nurse. Some people choose to refuse MRIs altogether. That is a personal decision, but maybe we can help you find something that makes it better. Or maybe you and your doctor could come to a compromise before you get to that point.
Best of luck!
Do you ever have moments where you question your self worth because of your MS?