Preparing for an Imaging Appointment
Last updated: July 2022
For many of us with endometriosis, needing imaging is common. Whether it is an MRI, a CT scan, or an ultrasound, here are some things I’ve learned about how to make these appointments more comfortable.
As someone with stage 4 endometriosis, I have had multiple MRIs, CT scans, and ultrasounds.
What are the main types of imaging done for endometriosis?
CT stands for computerized tomography. This scan is a series of x-ray images taken from different angles around your body. You lie inside a donut-shaped device that is open in the back, so there is little risk of claustrophobia.
Both of my CT scan experiences happened in emergency rooms, and both times I had contrast dye injected. The most uncomfortable part of the procedure was getting the IV put in. Since I have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, I reacted to the contrast dye the last time I had a CT, so now I know to give the staff my premedication protocol.
You can ask your doctor if you are at risk of an allergic reaction to the dye. During a CT, they may ask you to lie still or hold your breath; this is the only other slightly challenging part of the procedure.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines combine powerful magnetic fields and radio frequencies to create images of your organs, and these machines are loud. MRIs are not my favorite.
You will hear banging, pulsing, clicking, whirring, clanging, and beeping, all at different speeds and frequencies. The sounds change depending on what kind of image is being created.
I even discovered during my last MRI that sometimes the machine and the table you are lying on shake and vibrates.
MRIs can take between 15 and 90 minutes to complete so you can be in the machine for quite a while. Depending on where you live and what your insurance will cover, you may be able to have an open-sided MRI.
This can be helpful for claustrophobic people because one side of the machine is open rather than a closed tube. Since my MRIs have been for my pelvis, I have most of my head outside the device, which helped.
Some doctors will prescribe anti-anxiety medication for you if you have claustrophobia. I think if I need another MRI in the future, I will ask for this.
You will need to ensure that you are not wearing anything with metal because of the powerful magnets. At some locations, you can wear things to keep you warm, like socks or leggings, as long as they meet the facilities’ requirements.
Sometimes the staff will also give you a blanket to keep you warm. They also give you a button to press in case you get claustrophobic or have to use the bathroom, and they may also provide ear plugs.
MRIs can also involve contrast dye, so you can ask if you’ll need to have an IV before you arrive so that you can expect that.
Some MRI locations give you headphones to listen to music, and I have found this to be very helpful in reducing my anxiety during the scan.
I’ve had enough MRIs now to know that choosing an album that I am very familiar with that makes me happy and is loud enough to counteract the sounds of the MRI machine is the best choice. The MRI clinic and the hospital had access to either Pandora or Spotify so that they could access most music.
One caveat: last time, I chose an album that I love, so it was hard to keep still, and a few times, they had to remind me to stay still. You may not want to choose your favorite dance record!
An ultrasound is my least favorite but maybe the most common form of imaging you might encounter. I have had both exterior and internal ultrasounds, and no matter which kind I’ve needed, I’ve found them to be painful and unpleasant.
The interior ultrasound feels incredibly invasive, and I have to work myself up to have them now.
My biggest recommendation is to bring someone with you to the appointment who can hold your hand and help you feel calm. This is especially true if you are someone who has painful ovarian cysts or endometriomas.
When I had an ultrasound in the emergency room and couldn’t have a loved one or friend with me, I asked if there was a tech who could hold my hand during the procedure. It is helpful to breathe as much as possible and try to relax as much as possible because tensing up will make the procedure more difficult.
As uncomfortable as these procedures are, they have been vital to me for diagnosing. My first ultrasound diagnosed ovarian endometrioma, so my gynecologist recommended surgery because of that imaging.
When I began having rectal involvement and ruptured cysts, an MRI showed my gynecologist that my rectum was tethered to my uterus. I had “kissing ovaries,” meaning I had large cysts pulling my ovaries together behind my uterus.
That is a sign of advanced disease, and it helped my surgeon understand the type of surgery I’d need.
If you have an imaging appointment, I hope this information will help you feel prepared and reduce your anxiety.
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