Wednesday, October 25, 2017

MRI's - tips and tricks for the chamber

MRI - a torture chamber for multiple sclerosis patients.

Just kidding.  Kind of.

Technically, a MRI is a chamber tube that uses magnetic fields and radio waves to develop a picture of a human's insides.  MRI's of the brain, cervical spine, and thoracic spine (brain, neck and back) are taken at various times with MS patients to look specifically at the central nervous system.  For those with MS, MRI's will show white spots that indicate a lesion.  These white spots, lesions, are places of the nervous system that have been damaged.  (Basically....)

MRI's are not only used as a diagnostic tool for multiple sclerosis, but also as a tool to determine the progression of the disease.  If a patient is presenting new or increased symptoms, a MRI will usually be ordered to determine if there is activity present.  

Here's how the MRI actually works:

A patient will lie on a narrow table (like a stretcher).  If its the brain MRI, the head will be secured in place by a cage like box.  The table will then slide into a chamber where there is little wiggle room.  MRI's can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 and a half hours, depending on what parts of the body are being imaged as well as if the MRI is being done with contrast. 

I think personally I'd be cool with MRI's if that was the worst of the "torture".  But its not.  Ive saved the best for last. 

The MRI, it sounds like this.  For the entirety of the scan.

Yep, torture.

As my best friend said today, you'll never forget getting a MRI.  It can be a scaring experience and yet for those with MS, you have the pleasure of doing this at the minimum of once a year for the rest of your entirety. 

Cool right?? 

Now if you're new to MS, or have yet to have had a MRI, let me assure you, it's going to be ok.  Millions of people have had MRI's before you and have been ok and millions of people will have MRIs after you (well I hope less than millions...I hope eventually they come up with a spa like experience to generate the same results but we'll see where science takes us in the next few years).

I've had a lot of MRIs.  In the first couple of years, it was almost to the point of once every 6 weeks.  We decided to lessen that amount after the MRIs started to show beginning signs of overuse on my body.  Yay!!  MRIs!! (Im writing this before I get a MRI done this evening actually.  Let me tell you...writing about a MRI before getting a MRI...I dont suggest it.  Future reference.).  

Here are some tips I've learned the past few years on how to make this necessary evil tolerable:

1. Meditate / pray.  Go in to the MRI with a clear head.  Download a meditation app (I use inscape) and do a simple 3 minute meditation before going in for the MRI.  Or say some prayers for peace and clarity. Clear your head as best as you can.  The worst thing you could do is go into this chamber with a head full of more stress and anxiety.  Take time to prep yourself.

2. Medicate.  If the stress and anxiety of the situation as a whole is too much, ask your doctor for something to take to help relieve those symptoms.  I dont also suggest masking symptoms with medication but in this case it might be necessary.  I take OTC ibuprofen to help with any after MRI headaches.  Also, if I have a cold or any kind of runny nose or soar throat, I take OTC cold medicine.  I have also gone in to a MRI with a nose breathing strip.  Anything to help make the experience more comfortable. 

3. Stop drinking...and then drink a lot.  Bladder issues are already a high symptom with MS patients so take this in to consideration before you even get to the facility.  Stop drinking a while before your MRI time and use the restroom before getting on the table.  After the MRI, especially if you've done an MRI with contrast, drink a large amount of fluids.  This will help flush the contrast out of your body as well as re-hydrate in general. 

4.  Wear your pjs.  While I have yet to have shown up to a MRI in footie pjs, I do always wear comfortable clothes with NO METAL.  This allows me to at least wear my pants, socks and shoes in the MRI.  For some reason, wearing my own clothes is comforting. 

5. Make friends.  The administrator knows how not cool the MRI is.  Chat with them a bit before.  They will help (hopefully) put you at ease.  Also dont be afraid to ask for a leg raise (to help alleviate back pain) or extra blankets.  No matter what time of the year it is, MRIs are always chilly.  Also, if you're having multiple images done, you can ask for a break in between sessions if needed.

6. Hold still.  And say cheese - you are getting your picture taken after all! :) Holding still will allow the MRI to go as quickly as possible.  The more still you are, the clearer the image and less of a chance of having to do it twice (been there, done that.  Dont feel bad if you need to).  Also, if having a neck MRI done (cervical spine), try not to swallow.  This will help with the clear image part. 

7. Smell good.  You're in a confined chamber for a long period of time: wear deodorant and have a mint before.  The worst is getting in there and realizing you smell like BO...and then being stuck in there for an hour.  This one is for your own good.

8.  Know your MRIs.  Ive heard of stories where a MS patient will have their yearly MRI and as follow up, the neurologist office will send only a letter in the mail stating "your MRI was clean - no new activity." That'll be it. It is your right to KNOW what your MRI actually states.  If you're a medical nerd buff like me, ask for the radiologists report (most hospitals now will upload these online in your patient portal).  At your next neurology appointment, have your neurologist or PA show you your MRI and point out to you where your lesions are.  I'd recommend doing this even if your MRI is "clean" or with no new activity.  Each MRI will show something different - whether its due to the actual machine's clarity or because of the progression of the disease.  Some lesions heal, some do not.  Some get bigger, some stay the same.  New lesions pop up, old lesions reactivate.  It's easy to just talk in these terms but it's important to remember that this is YOUR nervous system.  If youd rather not know because that's your MO, go with that.  But if you want to know, and your doctor isnt voluntarily telling you, its your right to know and dont be afraid to ask.  

8. Treat yourself.  You just survived (ok a bit dramatic) a high energy magnetic field imaging test. Yay!!  Go you!! You're a badass.  

Ive been experiencing some intensified symptoms for about 6 weeks now and they have not improved.  I was hoping it was virus or bacterial influenced, you know, like a normal person.  But according to (most) of my bloodwork, I'm a "healthy" individual.  And yet according to my MRIs, my nervous system is like swiss cheese.  (: So tonight will be #35 to see what is going on.

Am I doing this pose thing right mom?

Whether this is your first MRI or youre a season pro, know this - what the MRI does or doesnt show will not define you.  It can be upsetting, but after a good cry, you can still wipe your face and get up the next day ready to show MS who's boss.  Life is beautiful and no matter what the lesion load or symptoms show, I hope you find something thats enjoyable in the day.  Because life is too short to not. 

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go put on some deoderant and knock out this bitch.  

Love, Eliz