Getting an MRI With Fibromyalgia or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

If you have fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome, there are a few things you should know—and do—before you go in for a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test. It's unlikely that you'll need an MRI for a diagnosis of fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome unless your particular set of symptoms is similar to that of a neurological illness that requires evaluation with an MRI.

You may also need an MRI at some point to diagnose an injury or a different illness.

Several effects of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome can make an MRI, especially of the brain, difficult.

These issues include:

With proper planning, though, you may be able to avoid a lot of problems.

Doctor and patient in radiology lab
Cultura RM Exclusive/Sigrid Gombert / Getty Images

What Is an MRI?

An MRI scan is used for a lot of different things. It helps healthcare providers diagnose soft-tissue injuries, spinal problems, vascular abnormalities, gastrointestinal problems, and diseases or abnormalities of the brain.

An MRI machine uses magnets and radio waves to create images of structures inside your body, and then sends the images to a computer. In most machines, you lie on a bed that slides into and out of a tube, which is a big doughnut-like structure that holds the magnets.

During a brain MRI, your head will be immobilized in a cage-like contraption with an opening over your face so you can see and breathe. The sides of the opening are padded and designed to hold you snugly in place.

During the test, the magnets spin around you, and loud sounds send radio waves through the body part being scanned. It's not a quick test—it can last anywhere from 10 minutes to more than two hours, depending on which part of your body is being scanned and why.

Contraindications to an MRI scan include having an insulin pump, a pacemaker, or any metal in your eye. Prior to doing the procedure, the imaging center should review your medical history to make sure that it is safe for you.

Considerations for Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Several aspects of the MRI process can be challenging if you have fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome.

The first thing you should do is let your healthcare provider know if you have problems with anxiety, pain, staying still, or claustrophobia. Some facilities have MRI machines with different designs that are quieter and less confining. And some facilities have open MRI machines, which might be an option for you.

Your practitioner may know of one or, with a few phone calls, you may be able to find out if there's one in your area. Be sure to check whether your insurance will cover it.

You need to discuss any special concerns you have with your healthcare provider In advance. Additionally, let the staff know of any concerns you have before the scan begins. They may know of other ways to help you get through it.

Here are some steps to take to ease anxiety or other sensitivity problems:

  • If you have anxiety issues or claustrophobia, talk to your healthcare provider about medication options when they order an MRI for you. Some practitioners may give you an anti-anxiety drug like Xanax (alprazolam) or Valium (diazepam) to take before your test.
  • Tell your provider if you have severe issues with noise sensitivity. You will be given earplugs, but the noise can still be aggravating, and they may recommend additional noise-canceling headgear for you.
  • For people with severe anxiety or claustrophobia, sedation might be an option. Make sure you discuss this with your healthcare provider and the facility ahead of time. Sedation is generally safe, but there is a slight risk of an adverse effect, such as breathing difficulties. Don't just show up and ask to be sedated, or they may not be able to accommodate you. Not all facilities offer this, either.
  • Lying on a hard surface, pressure against your arms and abdomen, and being still for so long may be a problem for those with hyperalgesia and allodynia. Pain medication before the MRI may make it more comfortable for you. If you're also being sedated or taking something for anxiety, make sure to check about interactions with your pain meds.

Take a few seconds to mentally calm yourself before going into the tube. If they offer a towel or other covering over your face, accept it. Seeing how little space is between your face and the tube may trigger panic.

Arrange for a ride home after your test. Even if you're not sedated or heavily medicated, you might not be able to drive safely afterward.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Davis KD, Flor H, Greely HT, et al. Brain imaging tests for chronic pain: medical, legal and ethical issues and recommendationsNat Rev Neurol. 2017 Sep;13(10):624-638. doi:10.1038/nrneurol.2017.122

  2. Nordbeck P, Ertl G, Ritter O. Magnetic resonance imaging safety in pacemaker and implantable cardioverter defibrillator patients: how far have we come?Eur Heart J. 2015;36(24):1505-1511. doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehv086

  3. Uffman JC, Tumin D, Raman V, Thung A, Adler B, Tobias JD. Mri utilization and the associated use of sedation and anesthesia in a pediatric ACOJournal of the American College of Radiology. 2017 Jul;14(7):924-930. doi:10.1016/j.jacr.2017.01.025

By Adrienne Dellwo
Adrienne Dellwo is an experienced journalist who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and has written extensively on the topic.