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Q: I have to get an MRI scan and I'm nervous. What are some tips for getting through the procedure?

An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan is a way of using magnetism and radio waves to take a high-resolution, 3D picture of the organs inside your body. For the scan, you will lie down on a table that will slide you into a narrow tube. Even though the scan is non-invasive, it can be a difficult experience for some people, because of the tight enclosed space that can be cold, loud noise, and the fact that you have to remain very still for 15 minutes to as long as an hour. But with a little preparation, you can make the experience much easier.

Dress in comfortable clothing, like sweat pants, that won’t constrict, itch, or bunch up while you're lying in the machine. You can also use a blanket if you're feeling cold.

If you get claustrophobic or are uncomfortable in tight spaces, consider wearing a sleeping mask over your eyes, so you won't be able to see the inside of the tube. Take slow, deep breaths, or use a technique for controlled breathing, like counting to 10 as you breathe in and out.

Be sure to communicate with your technician before the scan about any concerns or special requests (such as playing music). Diagnostic imaging departments or centers and their specialized technicians are very familiar with these common and understandable worries and can offer advice and assistance for MRI patients of all ages. For example, at Maui Memorial Medical Center's Imaging Department, we employ complimentary alternative medicine strategies like aromatherapy. Aromatherapy is the practice of using materials and aromatic oils from plants to enhance a person's physical or psychological well-being. For our patients, and particularly those who suffer from anxiety issues such as claustrophobia, we've found our use of aromatherapy scents helps to relieve and sometimes diminish any psychological stress in our MRI suite.

And don't worry, if you are uncomfortable during the procedure, you can also press a button to communicate with the technician at any time.

Finally, although most people find that they are able to make it through an MRI scan with minimal discomfort, if you're really having trouble with the procedure, you can talk with your doctor about prescribing a sedative or anti-anxiety medication.