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When Your Doctor Might Want You to Have a Fluoroscopy Exam

X-rays are the workhorses of imaging inside your body. They’ve been a routine tool to help diagnose medical problems for nearly 100 years, and they’re still useful today, especially for diagnosing bone fractures and evaluating the lungs. But sometimes, you can’t get enough information from an x-ray. In those cases, your doctor may recommend an imaging test called a fluoroscopy.

“Fluoroscopy is a dynamic or live x-ray,” said Brett Kusmit, a radiology practitioner assistant at Banner Health. Health care providers will often use fluoroscopy exams, such as an esophagram (barium swallow), barium enema and angiography, to diagnose specific health problems. It can also be used to guide surgical procedures.

How fluoroscopy can help identify medical conditions

Your doctor might want you to have a fluoroscopy test if another procedure, such as an MRI or interventional radiology, requires anesthesia and you would prefer to avoid it, or you’re at high risk of complications from that test. It’s typically used with a contrast material, which is a substance that makes the images easier to see. You might need a fluoroscopy exam to help diagnose problems with your bones, joints or organs, including the heart, bladder, kidneys and reproductive organs.

Health care providers often use fluoroscopy in the gastrointestinal tract, where it can help diagnose:

  • Inflammation
  • Strictures, or narrowing in the intestines
  • Ulcers
  • Hernias
  • Gastroesophageal reflux
  • Cancers
  • Abnormal contractions in your gastrointestinal system
  • Bleeding in the blood vessels
  • Leaks in the gastrointestinal system

Elsewhere in the body, fluoroscopy can:

  • Check blood flow in the heart’s arteries
  • Look for blockages in blood vessels
  • Take pictures of joints
  • Examine the uterus and fallopian tubes
  • Look for urinary system problems
  • Identify situations where two organs are connected abnormally

How fluoroscopy can help guide procedures

“Fluoroscopy can help guide health care providers when they are placing needles, guide wires or catheters,” Kusmit said. And small portable fluoroscopy equipment called a C-arm can be used in operating rooms. Orthopedic surgeons often use them to make sure hardware or prosthetic joints are correctly placed.

What happens during a fluoroscopy exam

Your health care team will let you know if you need to restrict your diet or prepare in any other way before your exam. Once you arrive on the day of your exam, you’ll check in and then change into a hospital gown and take a contrast agent.

Depending on the part of your body being examined, you might take your contrast material by mouth, IV or enema. You’ll lie on an exam table, and you may need to change positions or hold your breath during the procedure.

If fluoroscopy is part of a procedure such as cardiac catheterization, you may need to stay and recover for a few hours. For many other procedures, you can go home more quickly.

The possible risks of fluoroscopy

With fluoroscopy, as with any x-ray, you’re exposed to radiation. In diagnostic fluoroscopy procedures, the radiation exposure is low. Using fluoroscopy to guide procedures requires more radiation. In those cases, you have a small risk of burns from the radiation or cancer that may develop much later in your life. However, the benefits you gain from an accurate diagnosis, or a needed procedure, will likely outweigh the risks from radiation exposure.

The bottom line

Health care professionals can use fluoroscopy to look inside your body and identify problems and to guide tools and equipment. If you would like to know if fluoroscopy should be a part of your medical care, reach out to Banner to connect with a health care provider.

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