Managing claustrophobia during medical procedures

If you have symptoms of claustrophobia, you may be afraid or eager to receive important medical tests, such as computed tomography (CT) scans, bone scans, positron emission tomography (PET) scans, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanning.

Although abandoning certain activities due to claustrophobia may not have any consequences, avoiding medical examinations may be a completely different situation. Delayed imaging may result in undiagnosed health problems and delays in necessary treatment.

Your feelings are very real and need to be acknowledged, but this should not prevent you from getting the medical care you need. There are many claustrophobic treatment options that can help reduce your symptoms and make this process and other life experiences easier.

What is claustrophobia?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5 (DSM-5) classifies claustrophobia as a type of anxiety disorder called a specific phobia.

The diagnostic criteria for specific phobias are as follows:

  • A person may feel a strong fear of cramped or crowded places that appear in real time, or when considering upcoming or hypothetical situations.
  • When a person is thinking or is in a closed or confined space, it will immediately or almost immediately show symptoms of anxiety (panic, sweating, rapid heartbeat, hot flashes, difficulty breathing, dizziness and tremors).
  • Individuals will avoid closed or cramped spaces at all costs.
  • A person’s fear response may last at least six months.
  • Phobias can interfere with an individual’s quality of life.
  • A person’s cognition may include fear of suffocation, feeling unable to escape, and feeling restricted.
  • Given this situation, individuals may react disproportionately.

Although many people are afraid of being trapped, choked or unable to escape, certain criteria must be met to treat your symptoms as a specific phobia.

Claustrophobia varies from person to person

Like other phobias, the intensity of symptoms of claustrophobia is also different. Everyone will have unique triggers and reactions, depending on various factors.

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Identifying your specific triggers can help you find the right resources and support. Claustrophobia can be caused by a variety of conditions, including:

Why medical procedures can cause claustrophobia

MRI, CT scan, PET scan, and bone scan all require certain parts of your body to be enclosed or semi-enclosed in a specific machine so that it can capture a clear image of the area of ​​interest. For some people with claustrophobia, this can cause high levels of fear, anxiety and panic.

In addition, because it is important to remain completely still, actual or simulated constraints may be used to remind you not to move during the scan. This only increases the feeling that a person is “trapped”.

But these are not the only factors at work. According to research, the loudness and duration of the machine, as well as the feeling of suffocation and fear of injury, are the main reasons why claustrophobic patients are afraid of MRI.

Studies have shown that CT scans and PET scans may also excite claustrophobic patients.

  • CT scans and PET scans can trigger symptoms of claustrophobia before the scan, even if the patient has previously undergone this type of surgery, once the scan is completed, the symptoms will continue.
  • Patients may feel anxious during the screening process, which may cause them to move more during the actual medical test. This affects the image quality of the scan and may cause the patient to have to undergo surgery again or to stay in the machine for a longer period of time, thereby further increasing their anxiety.
  • While patients are waiting for test results, they may also experience high levels of anxiety after surgery. During this time, the patient may also be struggling with death-related thoughts.
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Manage claustrophobia

Claustrophobia can be treated with psychotherapy and/or medication. It is important to take the time to find the best treatment for your unique needs so that your symptoms can be controlled. This will obviously help you in one of these medical exams, but more importantly, it will help you improve your overall quality of life for claustrophobia.

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Medications may be prescribed to help you manage the symptoms associated with claustrophobia. Many times, medication and psychotherapy are prescribed together.

Medications that can be used to treat the symptoms of claustrophobia include:

Psychotherapy

There are many psychotherapy options for claustrophobia. A mental health professional may help you better understand the causes of claustrophobia and how to manage symptoms. They may also provide you with appropriate resources and recommendations.

Some treatment options and exercises include:

Talk to your doctor

Although talking to your doctor about your claustrophobic symptoms may be nerve-racking, remember that they will help you and provide you with the best treatment.

If your attending doctor understands your claustrophobia and/or general anxiety about medical examinations, they can come up with solutions to help you reduce your anxiety before surgery.

These may include:

It is also worth asking about alternative types of imaging procedures, which may be acceptable in some cases.

Be sure to discuss the risks and benefits of possible alternatives with your doctor so that you can make an informed decision about your medical care.

Prepare for surgery

Preparing in advance and on the day of surgery may help reduce your fear level.

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ask:

  • Imaging machine: Some facilities provide open MRI without edges. Others use an open upright MRI, which eliminates closed chambers and allows patients to sit or stand. Studies have shown that claustrophobic patients experience less symptoms when using these options compared to a typical MRI. If it is not possible, please ask whether to enter the machine feet first. (This may be allowed, depending on the body part being scanned.)
  • Look at the equipment ahead of time: For many people, just looking at the machine and understanding how it works can help reduce the anxiety of anticipation. You may even be allowed to lie on the table or watch the technician turn on the device.
  • Interference: The facility may provide music, earplugs, and special headphones to help reduce the sound of the machine and create a quieter environment. Some facilities may set up a relaxing beach scene or other pleasant environment in the test room.
  • Receiving updates: Because some programs can take a while, it’s helpful to know when you’ve reached certain milestones. Usually the technician will check every few minutes after each scan, but you can also ask to know when you reach the midpoint.

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It is perfectly normal to be nervous about the upcoming medical procedure, especially procedures that involve staying still in a compact machine while performing a scan. Many people are afraid of being trapped, choked, or choked, but if your anxiety is high enough to prevent you from seeking proper medical care, it is important to talk to your doctor or mental health professional.

Remember that healthcare providers understand claustrophobia and will support you so that you can get the best care possible.

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