What is fluoroscopy?

Fluoroscopy is a study of moving body structures — similar to an X-ray "movie." A continuous X-ray beam is passed through the body part being examined, and is transmitted to a TV-like monitor so that the body part and its motion can be seen in detail.

Fluoroscopy, as an imaging tool, enables doctors to look at many body systems, including the skeletal, digestive, urinary, respiratory, and reproductive systems. Fluoroscopy may be performed to evaluate specific areas of the body, including the bones, muscles, and joints, as well as solid organs such as the heart, lung, or kidneys.

Fluoroscopy is used in many types of examinations and procedures, such as barium X-rays, cardiac catheterization, arthrography (visualization of a joint or joints), lumbar puncture, placement of intravenous (IV) catheters (hollow tubes inserted into veins or arteries), intravenous pyelogram, hysterosalpingogram, and biopsies. When appropriate, fluoroscopy allows the radiologist to position the patient so that the imaged part is in just the right position for obtaining a static X-ray. 

Fluoroscopy may be used alone as a diagnostic procedure, or may be used in conjunction with other diagnostic or therapeutic media or procedures.

In barium X-rays, fluoroscopy used alone allows the doctors to see the movement of the intestines as the barium moves through them. In cardiac catheterization, fluoroscopy is added to enable the doctor to see the flow of blood through the coronary arteries in order to evaluate the presence of arterial blockages. For intravenous catheter insertion, fluoroscopy assists the doctor in guiding the catheter into a specific location inside the body.

Other uses of fluoroscopy include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Locating foreign bodies

  • Viscosupplementation injections. A procedure in which a liquid substance that acts as a cartilage supplement is injected into the joint.

  • Image-guided anesthetic injections into joints or the spine

  • Percutaneous vertebroplasty. A minimally invasive procedure used to treat compression fractures of the vertebrae of the spine.

How is fluoroscopy performed?

Picture of a fluoroscope machine

Fluoroscopy may be part of an examination or procedure that is done on either an outpatient or inpatient basis. The specific type of procedure or examination being done will determine whether any preparation prior to the procedure is required. Your doctor should notify you of any preprocedure instructions.

Although each facility may have specific protocols in place and specific examinations and procedures may differ, fluoroscopy procedures generally follow this process:

  1. An intravenous (IV) line may be inserted in the patient's hand or arm.

  2. The patient will be positioned on the X-ray table.

  3. For procedures that require catheter insertion, such as cardiac catheterization or catheter placement, an additional line insertion site may be used in the groin, elbow, or other site.

  4. A special X-ray machine will be used to produce the fluoroscopic images of the body structure being examined or treated.

  5. A dye or contrast substance may be injected into an IV line or catheter in order to better visualize the structure being studied.

  6. The type of care required after the procedure will depend on the type of procedure done. Certain procedures, such as cardiac catheterization, will 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. The doctor will give more specific instructions related to care after the examination or procedure.