Claustrophobia and MRI

How to Minimize your Fears?

What to Expect During your MRI Procedure

Still Uneasy About Having an MRI Exam?

If you are scared about your MRI, keep in mind that people talk about MRI and claustrophobia (fear of being in a closed space) based on what they have heard or experienced in the past. Not all of this is true today, and certainly not at Rancho Open MRI. Older MRI machines had narrower tunnels than the modern MRI equipment at Rancho Open MRI. The older machines were often relatively dark, and the scanner’s ceiling was very close to the patient’s face and head.

Rancho Open MRI has taken the following measures to help those who expect to feel claustrophobic during MRI:

  • Our scanners are fully lit, ventilated, and open at both ends. Rancho Open MRI has invested in the latest MRI machines that have wider openings and better lighting in the scanner tunnel. These machines greatly improve patients’ comfort during the exam and also yield higher resolution so the images are clearer.
  • Our state-of-the-art MRI scanners have “motion correction” imaging that allows for a faster examination. That means the patient is in the scanner for a shorter time.
  • For some MRI exams, depending on the body part being imaged, we may not need to have your head inside the scanner at all. This dramatically lowers the expectation or experience of claustrophobia. For example, exams of the knee, foot or leg do not require patients to enter the MRI scanner tube completely—only the leg is in the tube.
  • In some cases patients may be able to watch a video with soothing nature scenes to help them relax during the exam.
  • At Rancho Open MRI we treat you like the individual you are. We try to find the most comfortable and easiest method for you to successfully complete your MRI. Our well-trained technologists work very closely with you to help lower anxieties, and we will tell you how long to expect your imaging to actually take. If you are concerned about how you will tolerate your MRI exam, we urge you to ask your doctor to develop a plan to help you. If you are having a MRI appointment, your doctor may prescribe an oral medication for you to take to minimize your anxiety.
  • During your exam, our technologist will see you and be in contact with you at all times. Speakers inside the scanner will enable the technologist to communicate with you and hear what you say. You also will have a call button (in the form of a squeeze ball) so that you can let the technologist know if you have any problems relaxing during the procedure.
  • If you wish, you can be given earplugs or a headset to help block out noise from the scanner.


What can I expect during my MRI scan?

  • The duration of the procedure will vary but the average is 45 minutes to one hour per body part.
  • You will be required to lie still during the actual MR scanning. Depending on the body part that is being examined, you may be instructed to hold your breath for up to 30 seconds.
  • The magnet is permanently open on both ends. It is well lit and there is a fan for patient comfort. There is also a two way intercom system for communication between patient and technologist. The part of the body being scanned will be placed in the middle of the magnet.
  • During the actual imaging, you will hear a loud intermittent banging noise. You will be provided with earplugs or head phones to minimize the noise during the procedure.
  • The technologist will also provide you with an alarm button to alert the technologist of any discomfort you may experience at any point during the MRI exam.
  • Some MRI exams require an injection of intravenous MRI contrast. Inform the technologist if you experience any discomfort during the injection.


You may still feel unable to control your fears or that you will be terribly uncomfortable due to back pain, breathing issues or something else. If you think the MRI will somehow be a problem, your primary doctor can consult with one of our radiologists to determine the best plan for you.

The plan may include consideration for a different test (not an MRI) or consideration of anesthesia or a sedative for you ahead of time. In those cases you will then need to plan for an adult to give you a ride home from the exam.

Depending on your exam, if you prefer to have a close friend or family member come with you to the MRI exam, we may be able to arrange for them to be in the MRI room with you during the exam (as long as they, too, are screened for “no metal”—just as you are).

It may help relieve some of your anxiety about having an MRI exam if you understand more about MRI and how it works:

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is an imaging procedure that uses a large magnet, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body in order for doctors to make or “rule out” medical diagnoses. MRI does not use radiation, as do X-rays or CT scans.

The MRI machine is a large, tube-shaped machine that patients lie within, and the MRI creates a strong magnetic field around the patient. The magnetic field and related pulses of radio waves produce signals from the body that are detected and converted into images by a computer. These images are viewed on a video display by highly-trained radiologists who study the images in order to precisely see organs and structures inside your body.

After the test

If you haven’t been sedated, you may resume your usual activities immediately after the scan.


Claustrophobic patients who often experience severe anxiety or panic attacks in small spaces, such as an elevator or airplanes. People who are already prone to having panic attacks will often develop claustrophobia in normal MRI’s.


Rancho Open MRI is the only imaging center in Southern California to offer patients a “movie theater” like experience during their Open MRI examination. Patients can now be fitted with our high-tech entertainment glasses and earphones, which will provide a captivating escape during their MRI procedure. The loud noise and enclosed space of the MRI machine will fade, as patients are spirited away to the picturesque scenes and sounds of nature videos from the BBC; or to the amusing roar of eccentric motors in Top Gear. Our patients can choose from four exciting entertainment selections.

  • The Private Life of Plants: Unearth the growth and survival of plants.
  • Under the Ocean: Explore life under the sea.
  • Discover Antarctica: Tag along with a family of emperor penguins!
  • Top Gear: Catch an exotic ride on the test track.

Patients will be able to complete their MRI scans more effectively once they have been put at ease with our entertainment glasses. Their claustrophobia will be calmed and their anxiety reduced. As patients’ thoughts are diverted and they lay peacefully still, our technicians are able to complete MRI scans more quickly.

Your MRI will be over with before you know it!