How to stop worrying and love your MRI scan
How to stop worrying and love your MRI Scan.
Well, you may not exactly love it, but decreasing the anxiety before and during your MRI scan can make it a more friendly diagnostic experience. There are countless articles on how to prepare for or make your MRI less stressful. Why not prevent the anxiety from forming in the first place? Anxiety can stem from misinformation, unfamiliarity with the process, or lack of attention from the MRI technician. An excellent method of handling all three of these factors is to visit the MRI center where you are scheduled for the exam before your appointed scan session. Imaging centers run on a fairly tight schedule, but there are normally slow periods during the day when you can arrange to see the machine and talk with the technician about any concerns you may have. You won’t be able to watch an actual exam in progress due to patient confidentiality, but five or 10 minutes between patients can give you enough time to get a comfort level. If you are talking with the actual tech that will be doing your exam, try to get a feel for how caring he or she will be during the exam. As a Field Service Engineer on MRI and CT equipment for almost 20 years, I have seen the importance of a caring MRI tech in making the patient’s experience a positive one.
Remember that you are in constant two-way communication with the MRI operator, and you are being watched on a patient monitoring system. You may not see the microphone and camera, but they are there. The MRI noises are loud and unfamiliar. The process of MRI includes changing electrical signals through various large coils of wire. The current changes produce a knocking sound in various patterns. I am reminded of my MRI hardware service training in 1991, in which a creative engineer had programmed a sequence that played “The Star Spangled Banner” on the MRI magnet. I guarantee your MRI examination will not include anything you can hum along with.
On examination day, you will already be familiar with the facility, the staff and the machine. You will be made as comfortable as possible on the scanning table, and if you need a blanket or additional pillow, don’t hesitate to ask for it. You will be reminded repeatedly to lie still. The more you move, the longer it takes, so relax and don’t move. Take some consolation in the fact that your 30-minute scan would have taken almost an hour 15 years ago.
If this is your first MRI scan, bring along a spouse or friend. Even though most of us are not claustrophobic, the sensation of isolation when in a traditional tunnel-shaped magnet can be disconcerting, and in some people, unbearable. Since the actual center of the magnet is used for imaging, the patient’s scanned area needs to be near the center. For a head or C-spine, this requires positioning the head in the center of the tunnel; this “coffin” effect can strike terror into the hearts of some patients. Merely positioning the patient with the arm extended out of the magnet bore and holding hands with the accompanying spouse or friend has produced amazing reductions in the fear factor and resulted in successful scan sessions. The human connection is very powerful.
Bring your favorite CD to enjoy through the comfortable headphones. Most modern MRI systems have stereo systems with radio and CD players. Check out the CD selection at your MRI center, or bring your own.
Very few people will not be able to be successfully scanned without the solution of last resort – sedation. Rescheduling the examination will be necessary in most cases, since many imaging centers do not have a doctor in the facility to administer the sedation.
What not to expect after the exam
Don’t expect the scanning technologist to give you an opinion on your scan results. Only a licensed physician qualified in reading radiological images can provide a diagnosis. You or your doctor will be provided a written copy of the report within a few days at the most. Most imaging centers will have radiologists on staff or transmit images electronically to a teleradiology center for interpretation.
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