The Joy of Getting an MRI
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Profile photo of Devin Garlit

That title is extremely sarcastic, folks! While many of us with Multiple Sclerosis have a wide range of symptoms, there are certainly a number of things we have in common. For instance, we spend a lot of time inside MRI tubes. No, really, like a whole lot of time. Most folks with MS will end up getting a yearly MRI, many will even get them every six months or even more frequently (so much, it’s often joked that MS stands for “Multiple Scans”). If you haven’t gone through this, you might be tempted think, “So what, that’s not that much, you lay there, they scan you and it’s over. Easy right?”. Well, for those who think that, I want to talk about why our times in a MRI tube can feel like something to lose sleep over!

Why do we need MRIs?

Magnetic Resonance Imaging is a tool used to generate images of the body that uses magnets and radio waves (and no radiation!). It’s become the go-to and least invasive way to detect lesions (which show up as white spots) on the brain and spinal cord of MS patients. Not only is it used to diagnose MS, but it’s also used to monitor the progression of the disease. Regular MRIs are used to track disease progression and to determine if your treatment is working (it’s important to remember that a lack of symptoms doesn’t mean the disease is inactive). Bottom line, if you have MS, you’re going to end up getting a lot of these scans.

So what’s the problem?

It’s a routine exam that can take between 45 minutes and an hour and a half (though some are much longer). Not a huge amount of time until you realize the scan takes place in a small, coffin-like tube. That is really the crux of my issue with MRIs, the tube. I admit, I’m a big guy, so that tube feels extremely tiny. Additionally, we are often raised to the top of the tube, our face just a few inches from it. We are also inserted so our head (and much of our body) is all the way in the tube. Oh, and our head is normally restrained because any sort of movement means the test must be redone. Cough? That part of the scan must be redone. Breathe heavily? Sigh? Have an uncontrollable MS spasm? Redo that part of the scan.

Now, you may have heard about “Open MRIs”. I’m sure they are a great thing, however, the scans needed for MS can’t utilize them. We have to be deep in that coffin, I mean, tube, with our head close to the scanner. I never considered myself claustrophobic until I started getting routine MRIs. Somewhere along the way, I developed a certain amount of claustrophobia and now it has a great effect on me when I go to get this “routine” scan. I’ve now built it up in my head as this awful experience. So much so, that I’ve had nightmares about MRIs.  To me, it really does feel like being buried alive for an hour and half. Which you might say, oh, well, you know someone will dig you out in an hour and half. But still, dug up or not, it still feels like being buried alive!

Oh, and have I mentioned that it’s loud? Well, it’s loud. The sound of the magnets make the tube such a loud place that we are often given headphones or earplugs to wear. Even with those, the magnets are still loud and uneven to me. Not great for a person who has trouble with noises. The nicer places will play music for you through headphones, which is helpful, but you can still hear the sound of the machine.

Another issue with such an enclosed space? Temperature. I’ve found that my temperature experience inside these tubes can vary greatly. From frigid to extremely hot, it’s never what the rest of the building seems to be. You know who has a big problem when it comes to temperature? People with Multiple Sclerosis.

Part of life

So as you can see, I am not a huge fan of getting MRIs. They are a very necessary part of my life now, and as much as I complain about them, I realize their importance. Tracking disease progression is extremely important. Getting results that are mostly unchanged is a great feeling and can be especially important when we don’t often see a tangible result from taking our medication. I’ve got one coming up and thought I’d share some of my feelings about them because I’m sure I’m not alone. We’ve got some great tips on dealing with MRI anxiety, but I would also love to hear what you folks think about them? Any tips? Anything about them that you especially dread?

Thanks for reading – Devin

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