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Fluoroscopy [floo-ROS-kuh-pee] is an imaging test, like an MRI or CT scan. This test takes a continuous x-ray of part of your body, creating an x-ray movie that your doctor or surgeon can look at to diagnose problems or help with another surgery, procedure, or test.

What is a fluoroscopy?

An x-ray is kind of radiation, like light or radio waves. The x-rays go through your body, but different parts of your body absorb more x-rays than other parts. When these x-rays are recorded on a special film or x-ray detector, the different amounts of x-rays that get through result in pictures of your bones and organs.

In the past, x-ray pictures were printed on large sheets of film, much like a large negative for a regular photograph. Today, x-rays are usually stored on a computer as digital files. This lets your doctor look at your x-rays on the computer and compare them to past x-rays more easily.

Fluoroscopy [floo-ROS-kuh-pee] is an imaging test, like an MRI or CT scan, that turns x-rays into video images that your doctor can use to watch your body parts working, or to help with another surgery that takes place inside of your body.

In a fluoroscopy, a continuous x-ray makes a series of images that are transmitted to a special screen, like a TV or computer monitor. This lets your doctor or surgeon watch what is going on in your body while it is actually happening, and can be used to diagnose problems with your organs or help a surgeon work inside of your body.

What are the risks and/or side effects?

Fluoroscopy is a safe procedure. However, there are some risks that you should talk about with your doctor:

  • Being exposed to radiation like x-rays can increase your chance of cancer. A continuous x-ray like fluoroscopy might give you more radiation exposure than a single picture, like your doctor might take of our broken bone. However, this risk is small, and most doctors think that it is worth it in exchange for a more accurate diagnosis or safer surgery. Modern x-ray equipment lowers the amount of radiation that your body receives, and your doctor can work to make sure that you get as little x-ray radiation as possible.
  • Some tests require more x-rays than others. The more x-rays you receive, the higher your cancer risk. If you are pregnant, you should tell your doctor, because developing babies are more sensitive to x-rays.
  • You might be allergic to iodine or another ingredient in the contrast material that your doctor gives you to help take the pictures. Allergies are rare, but might cause nausea or problems with your heart. You should tell your doctor if you are allergic to iodine.

Some risks are related to the other treatments or surgeries your doctor may use along with a fluoroscopy:

  • If your skin is cut as part of the surgery, there is a small risk of infection. The risk of infection that needs antibiotic treatment is less than 1 in 1000.
  • Other kinds of surgery that a fluoroscopy can help with also have risks. For instance, if your doctor is repairing a joint, they might hurt a blood vessel or nerve near your joint.

What are the benefits?

Fluoroscopy is used in many kinds of examinations and procedures that can help diagnose or treat diseases, conditions, or other problems you might have. Some common uses of fluoroscopy include:

  • Barium x-rays and enemas. In this test, the doctor will give you a liquid or an enema that has barium in it. The barium shows up on an x-ray, letting the doctor review how the liquid or enema moves through your gastrointestinal tract (your digestive system).
  • Catheter (KATH-ih-tur) insertion and movement. Your doctor may need to insert a catheter into a part of your body that has disease, injury, or another problem. Fluoroscopy can help your doctor watch where the catheter is going once it is inside your body. This test is especially useful for inserting catheters in the blood vessels, bile ducts, or urinary system.
  • Placement of other objects in your body. Objects like stents can be used to open narrow or blocked blood vessels. The x-ray movie will let your doctor see where the stent is while they put it into your blood vessel.
  • Angiogram (ANN-gee-AW-gram). An angiogram is a test that lets your doctor take pictures of your blood vessels and organs to see how blood flows through them. Fluoroscopy can be used as part of an angiogram to help your surgeon place the probe used in this test.
  • Orthopedic (OR-thoh-PEE-dik) surgery. If you need to have one of your joints repaired or replaced, or if you have a bone fracture that needs surgery, fluoroscopy can help your doctor watch where the hardware is being installed in your joints or bone.

How do I prepare?

You might not need to do anything to prepare for the fluoroscopy, especially if your doctor is only using it to look at the inside of your body. If you need to have surgery, you should talk to your doctor about steps you need to take to prepare for that procedure.

How is it done or administered?

If fluoroscopy is not being used to help with surgery, you may be able to stay awake for this procedure, because it does not hurt.

Fluoroscopy can also be used to help with surgery. Some surgeries, like catheterization [KATH-it-ur-ay-ZAY-shun], can be done on the same day you go to the hospital and may need only local anesthetic [AN-ess-THET-ik] (a medicine that numbs the part of your body the surgeon is working on).

Other surgeries, like fixing a fractured bone, may take longer or need a general anesthetic (a medicine that puts you to sleep so that you don’t feel or remember the surgery).

When will I know the results?

Your doctor may send the x-ray video or pictures to a specialist. This process might take a few days to a few weeks, depending on how complicated your problem is. Talk to your doctor about how long it will take to know the results of the test.

What are follow-up requirements and options?

After your doctor reviews your fluoroscopy results, they might contact you for a follow-up exam for any of these reasons:

  • If your doctor finds a problem that they did not expect or see before, you may need more tests to diagnose or treat this problem.
  • Some conditions need to be watched over time, and your doctor might have you come in for more fluoroscopy or other tests.
  • If there was a problem with the fluoroscopy and your doctor was not able to diagnose your problem, you may need to be tested again.