MRI Anxiety: Closed-Bore vs. Wide-Bore vs Open MRI

If you’re reading this, you’re either one of my dedicated readers or you’re looking to see how the Hell to get out of a closed MRI because you’re terrified of it. I’m not going to tell you to call the facility up immediately an request anything but a closed-bore MRI, but maybe after you get done reading this post. And taking a valium.

I don’t consider myself claustrophobic. I get kind of freaked out at massive heights, especially on top of mountains, etc. I own a snake, but really don’t like finding beetles, cockroaches, or spiders inside my house. I feel like my fears are sort of rational. I do, however, have generalized anxiety disorder and tend to pass out when having IVs put in or lots of blood drawn. Even that I can get around with the use of medication and seeing a therapist for anxiety-reducing techniques. So for me, having an MRI requested by my doctor didn’t strike fear into my heart. After all, I didn’t need any contrast (injection via IV to see specific things during the MRI), so I didn’t think I’d have a reason to panic.

My shoulder has been giving me grief for 6 months and I have a shoulder impingement on my rotator cuff. I blame hypermobility syndrome/Ehler’s Danlos but regardless of what gave this problem to me, it wasn’t getting much better with weeks of physical therapy. An MRI was my last resort to make sure that nothing was seriously wrong – something torn, etc.

I arrived at the facility and took of my clothes and put on a fabulous hospital gown complete with booties. I went into the MRI room and got in a very uncomfortable position with my shoulder locked into a shoulder cap-like item and I was velcroed (yes, strapped) in like some sort of mental patient. I was then told to put in ear plugs and I was asked what radio station I wanted to listen to. I started to get suspicious about this now – wasn’t this just a quick in and out procedure? I was told that I was going to be put into the machine – and kept there…for 25 whole minutes.

Closed-bore MRI from

Closed-bore MRI (IMAGE FROM

The part of my brain that controls panic suddenly lit on fire (boy, I’d love to see that in an MRI). I’m sorry – I’m in a tube, almost with the machine pressed against my face, I’m STRAPPED in, I can’t move, and this is going to take HOW long? I requested a blanket and took some huge deep breaths. I was slid into the machine and suddenly I was very aware of how close the machine was too my face. My breath was automatically more shallow because the machine was so close to me that it made the air stagnant and warm. I closed my eyes and made a pledge to myself not to open them until this was over. A contemporary radio station started playing in the headset, but it was quickly drowned out by the jackhammer-like sounds coming from the machine so close to my face. This happened every minute or so, and I suspect that it would be a lot more never-wrenching if I could actually hear “Call Me Maybe” playing over the noises. I mean, who can “relax” while that sound is happening all around you when you’re stuck in a giant tube?

They do give you this squeeze-ball to ring the attendant if you need to be pulled out for any reason. Every other minute, I debated squeezing the hell out of it to try to get out of there. However, this MRI was costing $500 and I didn’t know if I could get it back if I bailed. Every thought through my head was “Do you think they have enough images yet? What if I quit now? How about now? Now?”

I thought about all of the techniques and tips that my therapist gave me to deal with generalized anxiety disorder. I am not ashamed to admit that I sought help for my problem, I believe that it was the best way to deal with anxiety. I am incredibly thankful of the techniques that I’ve learned over the years, especially since I can now fly without many problems anymore – huzzah! I used them and somehow got through the 25 minutes without asking to get pulled out. There were several instances of shortness of breath, racing thoughts, and restless appendages. I did not have a panic attack, but I was definitely on the verge of starting one for at least 22 out of the 25 minutes.

Please note that this is not my first rodeo with MRIs or CT scans. However, I don’t believe I’ve ever done a closed-bore MRI, especially not with my whole body inside (especially my face). I recommend that if you can get a more-open version of the MRI – it will be a blessing. Unless you know for sure that you are not claustrophobic or have any anxiety/panic tendencies, I would ask for anything but a closed-bore MRI for anything that includes putting most of your body inside. If you are not familiar with the different types of MRIs, check out this site – where I have the photos from in this article.

I still don’t know the results of the MRI (cross your fingers for me), but the tech said that the MRI results came out clean, so at least I don’t have to repeat the procedure. While I’m coming down from my anxiety (helped with a gluten-free donut), I really really really just hope I never have to do a closed MRI again.

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Comments: 13

  1. Michelle July 22, 2014 at 7:01 pm Reply

    Oh my I wish I would have read this post yesterday before I had an MRI. I had to have one on my breast to monitor me for breast cancer. I had no clue what I was in for. This first thing I had to do was change into scrubs and then have an IV inserted. Normally that is no biggie for me but when the nurse did it blood went every where. I nearly passed out. Then she took me into the room and I almost passed out again from the size of the machine. They really should give you some kind of warning on how loud the procedure is going to be. When the first image was taken it sounded like a machine gun going off and I almost screamed. Its the first of many for me. One good thing is I was blessed with a small chest so the procedure was cut in half. I can’t imagine enduring that for an hour. I hope you get good results and find out what is cause you pain soon. I just started following your blog and am really enjoying reading your post. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • kathy November 2, 2015 at 1:25 pm Reply

      I have gone through MRI’s that took an about a.panic attack! They were for my spine, I am due to have an MRI tomorrow, and I am getting an “open” MRI this time..Hope that it is “open”! I thought that I was the only person to feel this, so glad to see that I’m not. Thank you!

  2. Maggie Allen June 28, 2016 at 11:11 am Reply

    I actually had no idea that open MRIs even exist! Lately, I’ve been having some stomach problems, so now I need to find a place to get an MRI scan. Before I pick the facility, I’ll be sure to make sure that they offer the open option. Since I consider myself pretty claustrophobic, I know that I’d struggle with the closed option!

  3. Loren July 8, 2018 at 8:09 pm Reply

    If you can find one in your area- or within whatever you consider a reasonable distance- I would highly recommend the WIDE BORE Tesla 3.0 MRI. I have had all kinds of MRIs- closed, “open” (not nearly open enough for me!), stand-up “open”, and finally my favorite the Wide bore Tesla 3.0. This is an amazingly fast machine, that gives way more detailed images than even the Tesla 1.5 (also good). The other nice thing is that this is a much wider tube/tunnel(?) than the closed version, that it felt wide enough for me IMHO that I had quite minimal anxiety. Plus, by the time I started to get a tad nervous, before I even did my breathing exercises, I was amazed by how quickly it was done! That is because it is a more powerful machine. The only downside to that was that it is even LOUDER than a typical MRI (already loud). I knew that in advance, so I brought my own soft silicone earplugs that really seal the ears from noise. In addition, they gave me headphones with music. Of course, I couldn’t really hear with my ear plugs, but I wore them anyway for a little extra protection. I hope at least some of this information will be helpful. Remember to get your MRI, no matter what it takes. There are places that will provide medicine to calm you, or even fully sedate, if truly necessary. Look around, ask questions, do your research- it’s important! Best of health and healing to you!

  4. Amy July 15, 2018 at 2:52 pm Reply

    Thank you for posting this! I’m scheduled for an MRI and I’m freaking out. Your info was very helpful. Thank you, Loren, for the comments you left… A good reminder to be an advocate for yourself!

  5. James Williams October 26, 2018 at 6:50 am Reply

    I’m having a mri of my shoulder today and I’m freaking out.but it’s suppose to be a big bore.its still doctor prescribed a sedative just hope it helps.i have been thinking of ways to get out of it but I have to have it done.wish me luck….

  6. Bill Greene December 21, 2018 at 1:04 pm Reply

    I am not sure why I am commenting to this, it is very rare for me. But I needed a MRI for a prostate issue. I never knew I was claustrophobic. I think it was because the sides were pressing my arms in and I couldn’t move. I freaked out and could not complete it at all. The doctor rescheduled and gave me a 10 mg Valium. I was loopy until they slid me into the machine. Again I freaked out it was like I no valium in my system. I couldn’t do it and now I find out that the open MRI Machines can’t really do prostate scans. But I did learn about the wide bore. I am still scared but I am willing to try it again. I would rather deal with a cancer then to be put into a standard bore machine again.

  7. Bill December 21, 2018 at 1:07 pm Reply

    Why can’t they put you in feet first in a close bore machine?

  8. Kerry Lyons March 7, 2019 at 5:04 pm Reply

    They can .. and SHOULD !!!

  9. stefano conti August 18, 2020 at 1:48 am Reply

    Hi you all, I write only a few lines as I have not much time in this moment but I really would like to get in depth with this topic! I have to submit myself to a head MRI in next days. I’m searching for an open machine but in the region of Italy where I live now there are only closed-bore machines. It’s not the first time I face a MRI, but I always did it into open machines and I’m quite anxious to do it in a closed-bore one. My wife, who also had a few MRI in the past, tells me she hadn’t any problems at all, but she is more valiant of me (and I cannot completely admit my fears as she likes men who play the brave). That is a block for me, otherwise I would travel to the north of Italy to submit myself to the MRI in an open machine! 😉 Sorry for this outburst, I had to tell this to someone and the author of this blog resemble to me! 😉

  10. Simple September 22, 2021 at 5:49 pm Reply

    Hello everyone, I went in today to try to get a MRI done for my neck and spine or some crap I don’t even know anymore and I was okay with the entire procedure until they start to slide me in and my elbows barely fit and the machine was like 6 inches away from my face I’m 6’1 250 lb I just feel like if I was being slid into a Crypt and I was a corpse , I am not a claustrophobic person I don’t really suffer from any anxieties but that machine is hell, I don’t wish this upon my worst enemy there are probably worse things in life that you can go through but I can’t do the MRI the MRI technician told me the machine is a GE 3T I don’t care what the machine is I can’t do it I’m very sorry I’m now looking into seeing if I can do some sort of open MRI I read all these stories from all these great people that have been able to get past their anxiety and deal with it I wish I were as strong as you , I was inserted in the machine maybe about a foot when I start to flip out they weren’t even done taking me out of the machine and I was already off the table I can’t do it I can’t I feel embarrassed and very sorry for myself I feel like I have a mental problem now this happened over an hour and a half ago and I still feeling negative and bad and just all these negative feelings that I should not be feeling all because of this machine. I really wish you all the best of luck and I just wanted to write how I felt because I have no other way of venting or expressing to anyone how I feel about this machine so I decided to share my story with you I’m sorry it’s not the bravest story that you’ve read it may not even give you confidence but I will tell you one thing you’re not alone.

  11. Edith Vongeyer September 19, 2022 at 8:03 pm Reply

    I have been on the computer for hours trying to find a Tesla wide short bore MRI at least close to my area or at a near province. I will travel anywhere in Canada to find one because I am extremely claustrophobic and there is absolutely no way I can go into a traditional MRI. I have under the skin breast cancer and my surgeon cannot operate until she gets a clear margin so if I don’t have the MRI it could mean my life. I have been stressed about this for weeks so if anyone ca help me to find the wide short bore MRI at least somewhere in Canada I would so appreciate it. I live in Vancouver but will travel if I find the machine I’m looking for.

  12. Edith Vongeyer September 19, 2022 at 8:10 pm Reply

    Please send me any information you may have on the 3 Tesla wide short bore MRI that you may know of in Canada.

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