Fluoroscopy is a type of medical imaging that shows a continuous X-ray image on a monitor, much like an X-ray movie. During a fluoroscopy procedure, an X-ray beam is passed through the body. The image is transmitted to a monitor so the movement of a body part or of an instrument or contrast agent (“X-ray dye”) through the body can be seen in detail.
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.
The probability that a person will experience these effects from a fluoroscopic procedure is statistically very small. Therefore, if the procedure is medically needed, the radiation risks are outweighed by the benefit to the patient. In fact, the radiation risk is usually far less than other risks not associated with radiation, such as anesthesia or sedation, or risks from the treatment itself. To minimize the radiation risk, fluoroscopy should always be performed with the lowest acceptable exposure for the shortest time necessary.
See the Medical X-ray Imaging webpage for more information on benefits and risks of X-ray imaging, including fluoroscopy.