Claustrophobia is defined as “a fear of being in a confined or enclosed place”. We strongly believe that by understanding the MRI procedure, many “claustrophobic” patients realize their fears can be minimized.

Many can complete the study without any type of medication to help them relax. Most importantly, keep in mind that the area on which you are lying is not enclosed at any time.

It is, however, somewhat confining, so if you are very nervous, we do have alternatives available. First we will thoroughly explain the procedure, and then discuss alternatives for helping you relax.

Oftentimes a person battling claustrophobia is able to comfortably complete the study and get the quality diagnosis they need without the assistance of pre-medication.

After you arrive at a Capitol Imaging Services (CIS) center, you will sign consent forms. We will copy insurance cards and collect any outside images you may have brought with you. Then the technologist will explain the procedure to you. You will be asked to remove anything metallic (jewelry, eyeglasses, watches, etc.) and change into a hospital gown if your clothing has metal zippers, snaps, hooks, etc. Your personal belongings will be stored in a secure locker during your scan. The technologist will then accompany you to the scanning room and help you get situated on the table. During the scan, you will lie on the padded table on your back with a cushion under your knees. The cushion helps take the pressure off your lower back and allows you to be more comfortable. You will also be offered earplugs or earphones to listen to music during the scan.

MRI Scanner Cutaway

The table then lifts up and slides into a tube-like cylinder that is flared, wider on both ends. IT NEVER CLOSES. It is open the whole time on both ends. There is a fan and a light inside. You may go in headfirst or feet first, depending on the body part being imaged. If we perform an MRI of your foot, knee, or leg, you would go in feet first and your head would be outside the scanner.

If you look above, you can clearly see out of one end. If you look down towards your feet, you will easily see out the other end. More than likely, the lower part of your body is out of the scanner altogether. In the event you choose to have your exam in our High Field Open MRI, you will have 270 degrees of open space to look outside of the magnet!

While in the scanner, the technologist will be able to see you throughout the entire scan and will talk with you over the headphone/intercom system. Although it is important that you are able to lie still for about 30-45 minutes, the scan is actually divided into numerous sessions ranging from one minute to 6-8 minutes in length. In between these sessions, it is okay to move about a little bit while remaining in the same position on the table, as long as you do not move the body part we are scanning.

During the picture taking, you will hear a repetitive knocking noise. Nothing moves or touches you and you will not feel any discomfort – it’s just noisy. The headset with music helps soften this. The technologist will talk to you over the headset intercom and let you know when they will start each group of pictures and how long they will last. Ask the technician to adjust the volume of the earphones if needed. Basically, when you hear the noise, lay as still as you can so the technologist can get very clear images for the doctor to read. Motion during this time will blur the images.

When it is quiet between pictures, you will need to remain in the same position on the table, but it is okay to stretch or move your arms or legs until the next sequence begins. Again, the technologist will tell you before they start each set of pictures.

Sometimes, patients are nervous about the MRI or uncomfortable with the thought of being on their back for that amount of time. We do have several options available to you.

The first and easiest is that many patients find it relaxing to simply have a cool washcloth over their forehead or eyes during the procedure. Thus, they can lie back and relax. Believe it or not, some people even fall asleep due to the repetitive hypnotic knocking noise.

If you feel it might be helpful, you may ask to bring a family member or friend into the scanning room with you. Many people feel it comforting just knowing someone else is right there at their side. We will screen those family members or friends as if they themselves were having the MRI.

Nervous or anxious patients may be offered a mild sedative. A patient may also ask their medical provider to prescribe a mild sedative to take before the exam.  If a mild sedative is taken, the patient will need to have someone drive them to our center and take them home once the exam is done.

We will ask you to arrive 45 minutes before the exam only if you need sedation. You should also have someone drive you home as the side effects differ per person.

Some patients ask, “If I am unable to complete my scan without sedation, can I then take the sedation and try again?” Unfortunately, that is not an option as it takes about an hour for the sedation to take effect and there may be patients scheduled after you.


Another option may be our open MRI scanners. We have high field open MRI at Bluebonnet Imaging, Diagnostic Imaging Services – Covington Pinnacle Parkway, Diagnostic Imaging Services – Metairie Veterans Memorial Boulevard and M.R. Imaging Systems, and open MRI at Ascension Open MRI, Baton Rouge Imaging, Doctors Imaging, Northwest Imaging, Open MRI of Hammond and OpenSided MRI of New Orleans. An open design enables us to obtain high-resolution MRI images for virtually any patient, including children and those who are claustrophobic or obese.

Your doctor and our schedulers will help you determine which scanner is the best for you. The most important things to keep in mind are:

  1. We are here to help you understand and comfortably complete your procedure.
  2.  We are there with you the whole time during the scan.
  3. The technologist can see you and talk to you throughout the scan.
  4. You can be taken out of the scanner at any point if you feel you cannot continue.

Just be sure to communicate your concerns to the CIS pre-registration associate when you call to go through the screening questions and also with the technologist at the time of your scan. We want your MRI scanning procedure to be a comfortable, pleasant experience and we’re here to make that happen.

If you have any other questions or concerns, please contact us.