Fighting MRI Fatigue

Fighting MRI Fatigue

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. I used to not care about them at all, heck sometimes I even fell asleep! Now I know the glory of the brain/triple spine MRI with and without, 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? No, I’m totally kidding but it sure does feel that way at times. As clinicians we live and breath MRI results. They are the best tool that we have for measuring how our patients are doing, if the medications are working, and to monitor for serious conditions like PML. Dr. Vollmer of the Rocky Mountain MS Center even argues that we should treat patients more aggressively according to their MRI results, not just based on symptoms. This could potentially change how many of us treat MS and the way we respond to what is called “silent damage”. Silent damage is when an MRI shows some new lesions, but the patient has no new symptoms. In response the doctor may hold off on changing medications since it seems like a fairly benign change, and because the patient outwardly is no different then they were at the last visit. Dr. Vollmer argues that the goal of therapy would 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 medications, but the point I’m trying to make is that MRIs are extremely important when it comes to letting us track our patients progress.

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 MRI fatigue, and I hope you will share anything that has helped you:

#1. Music! I found out that my radiology location can plug in my iPod and play a custom playlist. I now have a great MRI playlist which 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 boy do I 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 that 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. I haven’t tried taking sedating medication because I usually drive myself to and from my appointments but many of my patients have, so communicate with your doctor if you do experience anxiety during MRIs.

Most importantly, if you ever do experience MRI fatigue try talking to your doctor or your nurse. Some patients choose to refuse MRIs altogether and that is a personal decision, but maybe we can help you find something that makes it better, or maybe you and your physician could come to a compromise before you get to that point.

Best of luck!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (29)
  • carolynwilhite
    5 days ago

    My husband can’t breathe lying flat, so he had to get his done at Upright Open MRI. He sat down with an open area during the imaging. It is the only place in our state that has one.

  • Tammon71
    1 month ago

    I’m not claustrophobic but I have a swallowing issue called nut cracker esophagus where fluid collects in my air way and I feel like in choking. They try to lift/tilt my head but they also need it flat and straight. So with the cage I and laying flat I start to feel like I’m drowning.
    Not to mention the spasticity is getting bad. This last 2 MRI’s I felt I was still but they kept saying I needed to be still. One of my newer symptoms this last year has been facial twitching I’m wondering if it’s not my whole body after that experience.

  • bstraiton
    6 months ago

    My first year or 2 of MRIs I did just fine with just having music. Then we started having major delays due to spasms in my legs and arms and neck. After a 45 min scan took almost 2 hrs my Neuro gave me clonopin to partially sedate me and stop the spasms. Now I have a great routine that starts the night before and I also have an MRI outfit that’s metal free and very cozy. I’m now just over 5yrs since diagnosis and my Neuro team and I have a great system for making MRIs as painless as possible. But yes you MUST speak up and advocate for yourself. There’s nothing worse than wasting a ton of energy being uncomfortable or panicked in a tube and then having to go on with your day.

  • venus
    6 months ago

    My Dr. gives me a valium to take about 1 hr. prior to MRI. That has made remarkable change for me. I’ve had many MRI’s being DX with MS since 1999, and I hated them! But now that I use the relaxer there not as bad.

  • ShelbyComito moderator
    6 months ago

    Thank you for your comment @venus! I’m so glad to hear you’ve found something that works for you. We appreciate you sharing your experience with the community and hope you will continue to do so! Warmest wishes, Shelby (MultipleSclerosis.net Team Member)

  • august16
    7 months ago

    Thank you for this article – and the range of additional tips in the comments. I don’t need the extra padding yet but will remember to ask for it when I do. (Mental note…on second thought, I’d better make a real note!)

    I haven’t needed medication but find an eye mask, or washcloth over my eyes, to be very helpful.

    My local places allow me to go into the tube in my own clothes, so I have a special MRI “non-metallic” outfit: sweats (no grommets), T-shirt, light long-sleeved cardigan (no buttons & sleeves loose enough for the contrast IV) & fun socks. It makes the whole thing more comfortable. I just slip off my shoes, toss my jewelry in my purse & throw it all into the locker. I have to change into a gown for MRI’s at Mayo – but it’s a substantial gown, and I still get to wear my fun socks.

    I like the warm blankets & ask for two if I’m especially chilly. At first, I didn’t want the techs to think of me as demanding. However, they’ve since told me that it’s easier to provide a patient with what they want/need than have to guess what they want/need. If a patient is polite & fairly cheerful, they’re happy to accommodate any reasonable requests.

    I also like them to give me time indicators. “This set will take 3 minutes,” etc. Like others have said, it breaks it up into manageable increments.

    When I was first getting MRI’s, I’d be nervous about the results & I’d be ‘hoping hard’ that I was ok. At some point, though, I realized that I had whatever I was going to have. There was no need for me to hope so hard for an outcome. The outcome was decided. I could just relax. I had done my part for the time being.

    That was surprisingly liberating. I try to maintain that state of mind, in general, when it comes to dealing with MS. It’s a lot less stressful. Of course, I don’t always manage this. Believe me, I can pitch a fit now & then! Pity Party, table for 1… I try to leave that party early, though.

    Good luck, everybody. Thanks for the camaraderie & sharing your tips!

  • bstraiton
    6 months ago

    MRIs at Mayo? As in Mayo clinic in Rochester, MN?

  • sealy
    8 months ago

    I am so happy to read this article because when I mentioned this was starting to happen to me with each new MRI my neurologist looked at me as if I had suddenly grown another head and said he had never heard of anyone saying that before. I assumed I was just being a wimp, the last one was the worst because my legs starting doing their dance, I wanted to scream and jump out but eventually got through it. I am concerned I am going to have to try to find someone to go with me so I can take a Valium. so strangely enough I am glad to find that it is not all in my mind. Thank you for all you suggestions.

  • JMeyer
    8 months ago

    There’s nothing I can do about the fatigue as I have to be sedated
    Not sure why – I’m not claustrophobic but the noise combined with being restrained with my head in a cage freaks me out big time

  • Pamayla darbyshire
    8 months ago

    I enjoyed your short note on MRI fatigue. As a pro in the tube (we all are if we’ve had the exams multiple times over the years), I have learned, as you suggested, to speak up for comfort etc. I now make sure I’m padded as well as we can accommodate to alleviate some of the pressure point and pain. Does it work, I have to say yes, if you have a cooperative MRI tech to help.
    To help with the time in the tube listening to the clangs and bangs, I’ve also learned that pre-medicating for pain and relaxation helps. I may be sleepy after, but it sure makes the exam easier on my spastic muscles and the restless limbs that always seem to know when it is time to start their dance.
    Thank you for sharing your tips to help us get through the experiences… have to add, my hospital also has music, but the MRI noise is so loud that you can’t hear it.

  • Nobu
    11 months ago

    MRI session, not MS session.

  • Nobu
    11 months ago

    I am still in the “I sleep in the MRI” stage of MS going on 18 years. But my last one was almost the best yet. The technician was originally from Brazil, and when I ask if he had jazz music, well, I got bossa nova. I was in music heaven. And we talked bosa and Brazil afterward. And now instead of a washcloth over my eyes, they have a nice little eye mask. The only somewhat goofy MS session I had was a 3 hour full head, back and spine – I must have lost 2 lbs in sweat from the heat. Other than that, I can still fall asleep or practice counting in a foreign language, and then backwards if I am brave enough.

  • JMeyer
    11 months ago

    The only way I’ve ever been able to get through them is with sedation. I’m not claustrophobic but the noise combined with being restrained with my head in a cage freaks me out – BIG time!

  • DianeG
    1 year ago

    I had my first MRI in Feb.1991. I hadn’t yet been diagnosed & I was a little anxious about the MRI. When I walked into the room where it was, I realized that it was a large room with just a large white tube at the far end of the room. When they put me in it, I closed my eyes and kept the picture of that big empty room in my mind. I still do that. At that time, they didn’t provide earplugs. In fact, all through the ‘90’s, ear protection didn’t seem to be high on the priority list. The noise it makes now is so much quieter. It used to sound like someone was using a jack hammer on my head! Thankfully, it’s not nearly as loud and now we get earplugs!

  • mascha
    4 years ago

    My problemen is clostrophobia!!Lots of anxiety and panic even with valium.my question is how often do we need one done?I had mine 6 months ago and they seem to be eager to do many in France….i thought once a year is enough?I am to the point of refusing but then they say’oh madam we cannot help you then.Very French…,

  • sara
    4 years ago

    I’ve learned over the years to close my eyes before I enter the tunnel so I don’t know how tight it really is in there. I find my happy place to concentrate on which is riding a horse out in an open field or through the woods jumping fallen trees as we go. Next thing I know the MRI is over and I’ve slept for an hour. Who needs drugs?

  • Pamayla darbyshire
    8 months ago

    Hi Sara, I have found doing the exact same thing helps going in the tube. Plus like you, concentrating on some other thought process than being in a confined space!!!

  • JMeyer
    11 months ago

    Sorry Sara, but while your scenario sounds beautiful I can’t focus like that. I need sedation

  • Lefty Lib
    5 years ago

    When I first started getting MRIs (very early 90s) I was okay with everything, though I didn’t like them much. A few years ago I was having two-three areas of my back looked at because I didn’t want to have to return for each area. Mistake! The MRI was taking way too long, and I think the techs were doing something wrong that prolonged it. But I was spastic and in pain and it was miserable. I used to always have the option of a headset w/music and a pair of earplugs. The techs would always call out the times before each scan began. I find that to be one of the most important things to help ease the anxiety of the wait….. all techs should always do this!! My last MRI, I had to push that button to ask them to please do it – and it wasn’t all that easy to get them to provide me with music AND earplugs either! These are procedures I thought were standard, but I am finding this not to be so true after having had multiple MRIs over many years.

  • teresal
    5 years ago

    I wish I had read this blog before my recent MRI – I have had 2 in the past and they were no problem, but this time, 3 and 1/2 years since the last, the joint discomfort and pain on the back of my head was excruciating. It is good to know that it was not just my imagination, but that others have had similar experiences. Thanks for the suggestions and for encouraging us to speak up and let our doctors and caregivers know if we are in discomfort – we tend to just deal because that is our nature often.

  • Laura Kolaczkowski
    5 years ago

    I clearly remember my first MRI in 1992 – it was for a back injury and not MS. The tech asked if I would like music and I said yes, anything would be fine. They rolled me in and the music started and it only took me about 30 seconds of the most twangy ’70s style country music to have me pushing the emergency button. I survived the scan, but only after they stopped the Porter Wagoner. Thanks for these very useful tips.

  • Stephanie Buxhoeveden, RN, MSCN author
    5 years ago

    For me it’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. I’ve heard that song so many times in an MRI machine that it now makes me shiver when I hear it out in the real world too! My radiologist and I have gotten to know each other and he knows that if I hear that song I will crawl out of the machine just to bonk him on the head! 🙂

  • Gisele
    5 years ago

    I enjoyed the blog on MRI fatigue. My last MRI was a little under a year ago with another coming up soon. I never had a problem with MRI’s until my last one when an anxiety attack crept up on me during the scan. I didn’t say anything to anyone, just dealt with it. After the test, the tech offered me a tissue because she though my nose was running because of how cold it was in there. Mabe she didn’t notice the sweat on my brow, or my soaked gown. None the less, I think I might ask my Doc for something to help me relax, just in case.

  • Ms Marple
    5 years ago

    I find MRIs nearly intolerable, even with music, until I discovered two things that make it all (sort of) bearable: Valium first, then I ask the technician to mark the time for me, so I know what’s coming. She tells me at the beginning of each scan, “This will last minutes. It makes all the difference. I know I can tolerate three minutes or even ten minutes of something intolerable as long as I know it will end.

    As for the music, though, be careful what you ask for. Once a tech. asked me what music I like. Classical, I said. How about Mozart? Fine. It was the Requiem!! That’s funeral music, I screeched. So I went with the crashes and thumps, and the next MRI, I said that I adore Broadway songs 🙂

  • Stephanie Buxhoeveden, RN, MSCN author
    5 years ago

    I do like when they count down too, it definitely helps. I always bring my own iPod fully loaded with music…no chance of any funeral music while I’m in a giant coffin sized magnet!! 🙂

  • Kathleen
    5 years ago

    Just a comment about having sedation with MRIs — it’s the only way to go for me. Prior to MRIs I never knew that I was claustrophobic, but when I got into that coffin-like tube with my head surrounded by what seemed like a bird-cage type of object to prevent me from moving, that did it, my claustrophobia quickly emerged! Now conscious sedation is a requirement for me, it’s painless and zones me out so that I have no sense of time or even any recall of what it was like while in the tube. And headphones with music completes the experience, just close your eyes and drift away for a while . . . . something to consider doing for yourself.

  • mascha
    4 years ago

    Mmmm i take valium but not enough to make me drift off.so claustrophobic that even 1/2 vallium does not help.What does help is putting me in 10 mins and then out,but they can not always do this.Helps too is the little mirror on my head so i can see them controlling the machine etc and the press button for sure!!!

  • Lefty Lib
    5 years ago

    I’ve heard this from folks, and what I’ve been able to do for myself (because I’ve always had to drive myself to and from) is to focus on the fact that I am really just inside this thing for a little while to be helped, not hurt, and I am not really stuck anywhere, and that I can get out anytime if I really need to… This has helped me, but if you’re happy all drugged up to avoid all the unpleasantries then, hey, go for it! 😉

  • Stephanie Buxhoeveden, RN, MSCN author
    5 years ago

    Thanks for sharing Kathleen!

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