How to Manage Claustrophobia During CT Scan
A fear of enclosed spaces is a well-known phobia. It’s also a common one — claustrophobia affects about 7.7% of the population. It can strike in several different scenarios, from riding in an elevator to entering a medical machine.
Claustrophobia in a CT scan machine presents a particular challenge. Phobias trigger an instinct to move away from the source of your fear quickly. However, CT scans require the patient to lie completely still while the machine takes the images. How, then, can you manage your anxiety during the procedure?
This article will help you understand what to expect during your scan and offer ways that you and your imaging center can keep your claustrophobia at bay.
What to Expect During a CT Scan
One of the best ways to reduce anxiety about confronting a phobia is knowing what you should expect.
You’ll find the CT process very similar if you’ve had an MRI before. Both procedures may require you to wear medical scrubs or a hospital gown, remove any metal before your scan and lie as still as possible for the scan’s duration. Your doctor may also instruct you to fast before your scan, depending on the area the imaging will target.
A technologist will guide you to lie down on a table attached to the scanner when you enter the scanning room. Depending on what part of your body the scan is targeting, they may direct you onto your back or stomach, with your arms at your sides or resting above your head.
The scanner itself is a large ring that the table will slide into. While an MRI machine is enclosed, the CT scanner’s open design may help minimize your claustrophobia.
Will It Be Loud?
The CT machine will be very noisy. As the scanner works, you’ll hear loud whirrings, buzzings and other mechanical noises. If you think the noise may be a potential trigger for your claustrophobia, research online videos to prepare yourself for the sound.
Talk with your doctor about your concerns if you believe the noise may be overwhelming. The imaging center may also be able to help minimize how much machine noise you hear.
How Long Will the Scan Take?
CT scans vary in length depending on:
- What part of your body is being scanned.
- How much of your body is being scanned.
- If the technologist is using contrast dye.
Generally speaking, a CT scan will last between 15 and 30 minutes. Your technologist will be able to tell you how long your scan will take when you arrive.
How Do You Stay Calm During a CT Scan?
Phobias are irrational by definition. While doing your research can help you feel more in control of the situation, your logical mind may need some extra assistance keeping your anxiety in check. With these tips, you can ensure you’re better prepared for your CT scan.
Talk to the Technologist
Researching the procedure beforehand can be a big help, and asking questions can be an even bigger one.
The technologist is there to help you get your scan as comfortably as possible. Feel free to ask them how long the test will take and if they will give you updates throughout the procedure. Voicing any questions or concerns will help them keep you calm and comfortable.
Bring a Friend
Consider bringing a friend or family member along for moral support. Knowing a loved one is in the waiting room can help you feel safe during your procedure. Afterward, just seeing them can trigger your brain to release hormones that calm the fight-or-flight response.
Making plans for lunch, coffee or another treat after your scan can also give you something to focus on during your procedure.
Close Your Eyes and Visualize
Keeping your eyes closed can help shut out triggers for CT scan claustrophobia.
Concentrate on visualizing places and situations that make you feel happy and relaxed. Imagining yourself on a pristine tropical beach, in a cozy mountain lodge or even curled up in your favorite chair at home can help you cope with a stressful situation.
Practice Breathing Exercises
If you find your anxiety rising during your scan, try one of these breathing exercises:
- Meditative breathing: Also known as mindful breathing, this exercise involves centering your attention on a specific physical sensation. Breathe deeply in and out, focusing on the feeling of your lungs expanding and relaxing in your chest.
- Square breathing: This technique combines a breathing exercise with visualization. Breathe in for a count of four and out for a count of four, then repeat. As you go through each count of four, visualize tracing one side of a square.
- 4-7-8 breathing: The focus this exercise requires and the oxygen boost it provides make it a helpful tool for maintaining your calm. Breathe in for a count of four, hold the breath to a count of seven and exhale on a count of eight.
Take a Sedative
If you think you may need additional help coping with your claustrophobia, you can ask your doctor if you can be sedated for your CT scan.
Your doctor is most likely to prescribe an oral benzodiazepine like Xanax (diazepam), Ativan (lorazepam) or Valium (diazepam). You should take any prescribed medication before your procedure according to your doctor’s instructions. If you and your doctor decide sedation is appropriate, you’ll also need to arrange for someone to drive you home afterward.
What Your Imaging Center Should Help You Do During a CT Scan
The technologists and other imaging center staff want you to feel safe and comfortable during your procedure. You can ask if they will provide:
- Earplugs: A sturdy set of earplugs will minimize the noise from the scanner. A quieter environment can help you keep calm and relaxed.
- Music: The imaging center might be able to play music over the room’s speaker system. Listening to a soothing playlist can assist the earplugs in covering the noise from the scanner.
- An eye covering: While you can keep your eyes closed during your scan, the imaging center might be able to provide a face mask or cloth as well.
- A blanket: Depending on what part of your body the scan is targeting, the imaging center may be able to give you a blanket. A soft blanket offers tactile comfort, and the extra warmth may be especially welcome if you need to wear a hospital gown.
- Updates: The CT technologist will likely let you know when the machine finishes each scan. However, you can also ask them to let you know when you pass the halfway point or other milestones. Knowing how much longer you have left can give you the strength to make it through the rest of your procedure.
Let Impression Imaging Help You Through Your CT Scan
Impression Imaging provides compassionate, high-quality care for patients across South Florida.
Our staff is here to provide you with a smooth, calm process from the moment you make your appointment. We offer a comfortable, friendly atmosphere and free transportation for those who need it.