Fluoroscopy is a type of imaging tool. It looks at moving body structures. It’s much like an X-ray “movie.” It 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 sent to a video monitor. The body part and its motion can then be seen in detail. Fluoroscopy lets healthcare providers look at many body systems. These include the skeletal, digestive, urinary, cardiovascular, respiratory, and reproductive systems.
- Orthopedic surgery: Surgery concerned with musculoskeletal system conditions.
- Catheter insertion: Inserting a tube into the body.
- Blood flow studies: Visualizing the flow of blood to the organs.
- Enemas: Inserting a rubber tip into the rectum.
- Angiography: x-rays of lymph or blood vessels, including heart, leg and cerebral vessels.
- Urological surgery: Surgery of the urinary tract and sex organs.
- Pacemaker implantation: Implanting a small electronic device in the chest.
Fluoroscopy is extremely helpful to surgeons while they’re performing surgical procedures. It enables doctors to see moving structures of the body and helps with diagnosing diseases. Fluoroscopy offers enormous benefits over invasive surgical procedures since it requires a tiny incision, significantly reducing your risk of infection and recovery time. Fluoroscopy may be used to look at certain parts of the body. These include the bones, bowel, muscles, heart vessels, and joints.
Fluoroscopy is used in many types of tests and procedures including:
- Barium X-rays. In barium X-rays, fluoroscopy used alone lets the healthcare provider see the movement of the intestines as the barium moves through them.
- Cardiac catheterization. In cardiac catheterization, fluoroscopy is used to help the healthcare provider see the flow of blood through the coronary arteries. It can check for arterial blockages.
- Electrophysiologic procedures. During these procedures, fluoroscopy is used to treat people with heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias).
- This imaging test uses X-rays to see a joint or joints.
- Placement of IV (intravenous) or arterial catheters. Catheters are thin, hollow tubes. For catheter insertion, fluoroscopy is used to guide the catheter into a specific vessel inside the body.
- This test is an X-ray of the uterus and fallopian tubes.
- Percutaneous vertebroplasty/kyphoplasty. This procedure treats compression fractures of the bones (vertebrae) of the spine.
- Retrograde urethrogram, micturating cysto-urethrogram. This test assesses problems of the urinary system.
- This test assesses an abnormal connection (fistula) between 2 organs.
Fluoroscopy may also be used for:
- Lumbar puncture
- Locating foreign bodies
- Guided injections into joints or the spine
Fluoroscopy may be used alone. Or it may be used along with other diagnostic procedures.
There may be other reasons for your healthcare provider to advise fluoroscopy.
Fluoroscopy is used in a wide variety of examinations and procedures to diagnose or treat patients. Some examples are:
- Barium X-rays and enemas (to view the gastrointestinal tract)
- Catheter insertion and manipulation (to direct the movement of a catheter through blood vessels, bile ducts or the urinary system)
- Placement of devices within the body, such as stents (to open narrowed or blocked blood vessels)
- Angiograms (to visualize blood vessels and organs)
- Orthopedic surgery (to guide joint replacements and treatment of fractures)
Fluoroscopy carries some risks, as do other X-ray procedures. The radiation dose the patient receives varies depending on the individual procedure. Fluoroscopy can result in relatively high radiation doses, especially for complex interventional procedures (such as placing stents or other devices inside the body) which require fluoroscopy be administered for a long period of time. Radiation-related risks associated with fluoroscopy include:
- radiation-induced injuries to the skin and underlying tissues (“burns”), which occur shortly after the exposure, and
- radiation-induced cancers, which may occur some time later in life.
Fluoroscopy may be performed 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:
- You will be asked to remove any clothing or jewelry that may interfere with the exposure of the body area to be examined.
- If you are asked to remove clothing, you will be given a gown to wear.
- A contrast substance may be given, depending on the type of procedure that is being performed, via swallowing, enema, or an intravenous (IV) line in your hand or arm.
- You will be positioned on the X-ray table. Depending on the type of procedure, you may be asked to assume different positions, move a specific body part, or hold your breath at intervals while the fluoroscopy is being performed.
- For procedures that require catheter insertion, such as cardiac catheterization or catheter placement into a joint or other body part, an additional line insertion site may be used in the groin, elbow, or other site.
- A special X-ray machine will be used to produce the fluoroscopic images of the body structure being examined or treated.
- A dye or contrast substance may be injected into the IV line in order to better visualize the organs or structures being studied.
- In the case of arthrography (visualization of a joint), any fluid in the joint may be aspirated (withdrawn with a needle) prior to the injection of the contrast substance. After the contrast is injected, you may be asked to move the joint for a few minutes in order to evenly distribute the contrast substance throughout the joint.
- The type of procedure being performed and the body part being examined and/or treated will determine the length of the procedure.
- After the procedure has been completed, the IV line will be removed.
While fluoroscopy itself is not painful, the particular procedure being performed 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, conscious sedation, or general anesthesia, depending on the particular procedure.
The type of care required after the procedure will depend on the type of fluoroscopy that is performed. Certain procedures, such as cardiac catheterization, will likely require a recovery period of several hours with immobilization of the leg or arm where the cardiac 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 return home following your procedure, you should notify your doctor as this could indicate an infection or other type of reaction.
Your doctor will give more specific instructions related to your care after the examination or procedure.