What is fluoroscopy?
Fluoroscopy is a type of x-ray that shows organs, tissues, or other internal structures moving in real time. Standard x-rays are like still photographs. Fluoroscopy is like a movie. It shows body systems in action. These include the cardiovascular (heart and blood vessels), digestive, and reproductive systems. The procedure can help your health care provider evaluate and diagnose a variety of conditions.
What is it used for?
Fluoroscopy is used in many types of imaging procedures. The most common uses of fluoroscopy include:
- Barium swallow or barium enema. In these procedures, fluoroscopy is used to show the movement of the gastrointestinal (digestive) tract.
- Cardiac catheterization. In this procedure, fluoroscopy shows blood flowing through the arteries. It is used to diagnose and treat some heart conditions.
- Placement of catheter or stent inside the body. Catheters are thin, hollow tubes. They are used to get fluids into the body or to drain excess fluids from the body. Stents are devices that help open narrow or blocked blood vessels. Fluoroscopy helps ensure proper placement of these devices.
- Guidance in orthopedic surgery. Fluoroscopy may be used by a surgeon to help guide procedures such as joint replacement and fracture (broken bone) repair.
- Hysterosalpingogram. In this procedure, fluoroscopy is used to provide images of a woman's reproductive organs.
Why do I need fluoroscopy?
You may need a fluoroscopy if your provider wants to check the function of a particular organ, system, or other internal part of your body. You may also need fluoroscopy for certain medical procedures that require imaging.
What happens during fluoroscopy?
Depending on the type of procedure, a fluoroscopy may be done at an outpatient radiology center or as part of your stay in a hospital. The procedure may include some or most of the following steps:
- You may need to remove your clothing. If so, you will be given a hospital gown.
- You will be given a lead shield or apron to wear over your pelvic area or another part of your body, depending on the type of fluoroscopy. The shield or apron provides protection from unnecessary radiation.
- For certain procedures, you may be asked to drink a liquid containing contrast dye. Contrast dye is a substance that makes parts of your body show up more clearly on an x-ray.
- If you are not asked to drink a liquid with the dye, you may be given the dye through an intravenous (IV) line or enema. An IV line will send the dye directly to your vein. An enema is procedure that flushes the dye into the rectum.
- You will be positioned on an x-ray table. Depending on the type of procedure, you may be asked move your body in different positions or move a certain body part. You may also be asked to hold your breath for a brief period of time.
- If your procedure involves getting a catheter, your provider will insert a needle in the appropriate body part. This may be your groin, elbow, or other site.
- Your provider will use a special x-ray scanner to make the fluoroscopic images.
- If a catheter was placed, your provider will remove it.
For certain procedures, such as those that involve injections into a joint or artery, you may first be given pain medicine and/or medicine to relax you.
Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?
Your preparation will depend on the type of fluoroscopy procedure. For some procedures, you don't need any special preparations. For others, you may be asked to avoid certain medicines and/or to fast (not eat or drink) for several hours before the test. Your provider will let you know if you need to do any special preparations.
Are there any risks to the test?
You should not have a fluoroscopy procedure if you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant. Radiation can be harmful to an unborn baby.
For others, there is little risk to having this test. The dose of radiation depends on the procedure, but fluoroscopy is not considered harmful for most people. But talk to your provider about all the x-rays you've had in the past. The risks from radiation exposure may be linked to the number of x-ray treatments you've had over time.
If you will be having contrast dye, there is a small risk of an allergic reaction. Tell your provider if you have any allergies, especially to shellfish or iodine, or if you've ever had a reaction to contrast material.
What do the results mean?
Your results will depend on what type of procedure you had. Several conditions and disorders can be diagnosed by fluoroscopy. Your provider may need to send your results to a specialist or do more tests to help make a diagnosis.
If you have questions about your results, talk to your health care provider.
- American College of Radiology [Internet]. Reston (VA): American College of Radiology; Fluoroscopy Scope Expansion; [cited 2020 Jul 5]; [about 4 screens]; Available from: https://www.acr.org/Advocacy-and-Economics/State-Issues/Advocacy-Resources/Fluoroscopy-Scope-Expansion
- Augusta University [Internet]. Augusta (GA): Augusta University; c2020. Information about your Fluoroscopy Exam; [cited 2020 Jul 5]; [about 4 screens]. Available from: https://www.augustahealth.org/health-encyclopedia/media/file/health%20encyclopedia/patient%20education/Patient_Education_Fluoro.pdf
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- University of Rochester Medical Center [Internet]. Rochester (NY): University of Rochester Medical Center; c2020. Health Encyclopedia: Barium Enema; [cited 2020 Jul 17]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=92&contentid=P07687
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- UW Health [Internet]. Madison (WI): University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority; c2020. Health Information: Upper Gastrointestinal Series (UGI: Test Overview; [updated 2019 Dec 9; cited 2020 Jul 5]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.uwhealth.org/health/topic/medicaltest/upper-gastrointestinal-series/hw235227.html
- Very Well Health [Internet]. New York: About, Inc.; c2020. What to Expect From Fluoroscopy; [updated 2019 Dec 9; cited 2020 Jul 5]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.verywellhealth.com/what-is-fluoroscopy-1191847