What is fluoroscopy?

Fluoroscopy is a study of moving body structures. It’s much like an X-ray "movie" and is often done while a contrast dye moves through the part of the body being examined. A continuous X-ray beam is passed through the body part and transmitted to a video monitor so that the body part and its motion can be seen in detail. Fluoroscopy, as an imaging tool, allows doctors to look at many body systems, including the skeletal, digestive, urinary, respiratory, and reproductive systems.

Fluoroscopy may be used to evaluate specific areas of the body, including the bones, muscles, and joints, as well as solid organs, such as the heart, lung, or kidneys.

Why might I need fluoroscopy?

Fluoroscopy is used in many types of exams and procedures including:

  • Barium X-rays
    • In barium X-rays, fluoroscopy used alone allows the doctor to see the movement of the intestines as the barium moves through them.
  • Cardiac catheterization
    • In cardiac catheterization, fluoroscopy is used to help the doctor see the flow of blood through the coronary arteries to check for arterial blockages.
  • Arthrography
    • X-ray to view a joint or joints.
  • Placement of intravenous (IV) catheters (thin, hollow tubes put into veins or arteries)
    • For IV catheter insertion, fluoroscopy is used to guide the catheter into a specific location inside the body.
  • Intravenous pyelogram (IVP)
    • X-ray of the kidneys, bladder, and ureters.
  • Hysterosalpingogram
    • X-ray of the uterus and fallopian tubes.
  • Percutaneous vertebroplasty
    • A procedure used to treat compression fractures of the vertebrae (bones) of the spine.

Fluoroscopy is also used for:

  • Lumbar puncture
  • Biopsies
  • Locating foreign bodies
  • Guided injections into joints or the spine

Fluoroscopy may be used alone, or may be used along with other diagnostic procedures.

There may be other reasons for your doctor to recommend fluoroscopy.

What are the risks of fluoroscopy?

You may want to ask your doctor about the amount of radiation used during the procedure and the risks related to your particular situation. It is a good idea to keep a record of your radiation exposure, such as previous CT scans and other types of X-rays, so that you can inform your doctor. Risks associated with radiation exposure may be related to the cumulative number of X-ray examinations and/or treatments over a long period.

If you are pregnant or think you may be, tell your doctor. Radiation exposure during pregnancy may lead to birth defects.

If contrast dye is used, there is a risk for allergic reaction to the dye. Tell your doctor if you are allergic to or sensitive to medications, contrast media, iodine, or latex. Also, tell your doctor if you have kidney failure or other kidney problems.

There may be other risks depending on your specific medical condition. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your doctor prior to the procedure.

Certain factors or conditions may interfere with the accuracy of a fluoroscopy procedure. For instance, a recent barium X-ray procedure may interfere with exposure of the abdominal or lower back area. Make sure your doctor knows about your medical history and any recent tests or treatments you have had.

How do I prepare for fluoroscopy?

  • Your doctor will explain the procedure to you and give you a chance to ask questions.
  • You will be asked to sign a consent form that gives your permission to do the procedure. Read the form carefully and ask questions if anything is not clear.
  • The specific type of procedure or exam being done will determine whether you have to do any preparation before the procedure. Your doctor will give you any pre-procedure instructions.
  • Be sure to tell your doctor, the radiologist, or the technologist if you have ever had a reaction to any contrast dye, or if you are allergic to iodine.
  • Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or think you may be.
  • Make sure your doctor has a list of all medications (prescribed and over-the-counter) and all herbs, vitamins, and supplements that you are taking.
  • Based on your medical condition, your doctor may give you other instructions on what to do before the procedure.

What happens during fluoroscopy?

Fluoroscopy may be done on an outpatient basis or as part of your stay in a hospital. Procedures may vary depending on your condition and your doctor's practices.

Generally, fluoroscopy follows this process:

  1. You will be asked to remove any clothing or jewelry that may get in the way of the body area to be examined. A bracelet with your name and an identification number may be put on your wrist. You may get a second bracelet if you have allergies.
  2. If you are asked to remove your clothing, you will be given a gown to wear.
  3. A contrast substance or dye may be given, depending on the type of procedure that is being done. You may get the contrast by swallowing it, as an enema, or in an intravenous (IV) line in your hand or arm. It is used to better visualize the organs or structures being studied.
  4. You will be positioned on the X-ray table. Depending on the type of procedure, you may be asked to move into different positions, move a certain body part, or hold your breath for a short time while the fluoroscopy is being done.
  5. For procedures that require catheter insertion, such as cardiac catheterization or catheter placement into a joint or other body part, a needle may be put into the groin, elbow, or other site.
  6. A special X-ray scanner will be used to produce the fluoroscopic images of the body structure being examined or treated.
  7. In the case of arthrography (visualization of a joint), any fluid in the joint may be aspirated (removed with a needle and syringe) before the contrast dye is injected. After the contrast is injected, you may be asked to move the joint for a few minutes in order to spread the contrast throughout the joint.
  8. The type of procedure being done and the body part being examined and/or treated will determine the length of the procedure.
  9. After the procedure has been completed, the IV line will be removed.

While fluoroscopy itself is not painful, the particular procedure being done may be painful, such as the injection into a joint or accessing of an artery or vein for angiography. In these cases, the radiologist will take all comfort measures possible, which could include local anesthesia (numbing drugs), conscious sedation (drugs to make you sleepy), or general anesthesia (drugs to put you into a deep sleep and not feel pain), depending on the particular procedure.

What happens after fluoroscopy?

The type of care required after the procedure will depend on the type of fluoroscopy that is done. Certain procedures, such as cardiac catheterization, will require a recovery period of several hours with immobilization of the leg or arm where the catheter was inserted. Other procedures may require less time for recovery.

If you notice any pain, redness, and/or swelling at the IV site after you go home, you should tell your doctor as this may be a sign of infection or other type of reaction.

Your doctor will give more specific instructions related to your care after the procedure.

Next steps

Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:
  • The name of the test or procedure
  • The reason you are having the test or procedure
  • The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
  • When and where you are to have the test or procedure and who will do it
  • When and how will you get the results
  • How much will you have to pay for the test or procedure
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