Fluoroscopy is an X-ray imaging technique that produces a video of internal body structures in motion. During a fluoroscopy, X-ray beams are passed through the region of the body that is being examined, producing video images that are transmitted to a monitor. In this way, the targeted area can be viewed in detail. Fluoroscopy is an effective tool to evaluate the function of almost all the body's systems, including the digestive, urinary, cardiovascular, respiratory, musculoskeletal and reproductive. Fluoroscopy can be used on its own as a diagnostic tool, or in combination with other diagnostic or therapeutic procedures.
Reasons for Fluoroscopy
Fluoroscopy is performed for many reasons and is often used to investigate problems with the following:
- Upper GI tract
- Lower GI tract
- Heart and blood flow
- Neurological system
- Urinary tract
- Uterus and fallopian tubes
It is also used to assist with procedures such as catheterization, angiograms, stent placement, and various orthopedic surgeries.
The Fluoroscopy Procedure
A fluoroscopy is usually performed in a hospital or outpatient setting. Fluoroscopy techniques can vary depending on the particular procedure that may also be performed.
Before undergoing fluoroscopy, patients either ingest or are administered a contrast material known as barium. Barium works by coating and highlighting the targeted area, so how and where the barium is administered depends on the area of the body to be examined. Barium may be swallowed to provide a view of the upper digestive tract, administered by enema for a view of the lower digestive tract, or delivered by catheter to view the urinary tract or bile ducts. It may also be administered intravenously in order to view blood vessels.
A fluoroscopy is usually performed on an outpatient basis. After the barium is administered, the patient is positioned on the examination table. A special X-ray scanner takes pictures of the specific body area and show the images instantly on a video screen. Any other necessary treatments will also be perfomed at this time such as a cardiac catheterization or an angioplasty to open blocked coronary arteries. Most patients go home the same day or may stay in the hospital for further observation and treatment if necessary.
Some fluoroscopy procedures may be performed while the patient is sedated under general anesthesia during surgery, for example when aligning and fixing fractured bones.
Risks of Fluoroscopy
Fluoroscopy is generally considered safe, though, like other X-ray procedures, it involves some risks. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are usually advised to undergo a different type of imaging examination. The radiation dose received varies from one individual to another and, therefore, so does the level of risk. Most of the time, the danger is statistically minimal. In some cases, however, the risk is elevated because a relatively high radiation dose is involved. This is particularly true when a stent or other device must be precisely placed in the body, exposing the patient to radiation for a longer period of time.
The immediate risks of radiation absorbed through fluoroscopy include radiation burns to the skin and underlying tissue. There is also some risk that a radiation-precipitated malignancy may later develop.