Fluoroscopy is a type of imaging procedure that uses several pulses of an X-ray beam to take real-time footage of tissues inside your body. Healthcare providers use fluoroscopy to help monitor and diagnose certain conditions and as imaging guidance for certain procedures.
Fluoroscopy is a medical imaging procedure that uses several pulses (brief bursts) of an X-ray beam to show internal organs and tissues moving in real time on a computer screen. Standard X-rays are like photographs, whereas fluoroscopy is like a video.
Healthcare providers use fluoroscopy for two main purposes: for diagnostic purposes and to help guide certain treatment procedures (known as interventional guidance), such as surgeries and catheter placements.
Providers can use fluoroscopy to look at several body systems in real time, including:
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Healthcare providers use fluoroscopy for diagnostic purposes and visual guidance during certain procedures (known as interventional guidance).
Healthcare providers use fluoroscopy for different parts of your body to diagnose several conditions, including:
Your healthcare provider may recommend a fluoroscopy test if they want to check the function of a particular organ, system or another internal part of your body. You may also need fluoroscopy for certain medical procedures that require imaging guidance, such as surgery or stent placements.
Fluoroscopy imaging tests are fairly common since they can help diagnose several conditions and help guide many different procedures.
While the use of fluoroscopy for imaging guidance during procedures has expanded, the number of fluoroscopy tests for diagnostic purposes has been declining for decades. Researchers believe this is due to the availability of other imaging procedure options, such as CT scans, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and endoscopy for diagnostics. In addition, not all radiologists have expertise in fluoroscopy.
Any type of healthcare provider who’s specially trained in using fluoroscopy can perform a fluoroscopy procedure. Providers who commonly use fluoroscopy include:
Radiography is the science of using radiation to provide images of tissues, organs, bones and vessels inside your body. Radiation is energy that comes from a source and travels through space at the speed of light. This energy has an electric field and a magnetic field associated with it and has wave-like properties.
An X-ray exposes you to a small dose of ionizing radiation to produce pictures of the inside of your body. X-rays are the oldest and most often used form of medical imaging.
Fluoroscopy and X-rays are both imaging tests that use radiation to take images of your internal tissues.
The difference is that X-rays take snapshots of internal tissues in a single moment, whereas fluoroscopy can provide continuous, real-time images of your internal tissues using several pulses (brief bursts) of radiation.
Other types of imaging tests that use radiation include computed tomography (CT) and mammography.
Your preparation will depend on the type of fluoroscopy procedure and why you’re getting it. Some procedures don’t require any special preparations. For others, your provider may have you avoid certain medications and/or fast (not eat or drink anything except water) for several hours before the imaging procedure.
In any case, your provider will let you know if you need to do any special preparations.
If you’re pregnant or there’s a chance you may be pregnant, it’s important to let your provider know. Radiation from fluoroscopy can be harmful to a developing fetus.
If your fluoroscopy procedure involves contrast dye, it’s important to let your provider know if you have any allergies or have had issues with contrast dyes in the past.
Depending on the type of procedure, you may have your fluoroscopy at an outpatient center or as part of your stay in a hospital. For some fluoroscopy procedures, you can be awake during it. For other procedures, such as one that involves surgery, you will go under general anesthesia so that you’re asleep during the surgery.
Your fluoroscopy may include some or most of the following steps:
Fluoroscopy carries some of the same risks as other X-ray procedures due to radiation exposure. Because of this, you should not have a fluoroscopy procedure if you’re pregnant or think you may be pregnant. Radiation can be harmful to a developing fetus.
When used appropriately, fluoroscopy for diagnostic purposes results in very low levels of radiation exposure.
When healthcare providers use fluoroscopy for certain invasive procedures or surgeries, it may result in greater levels of radiation exposure. Radiation-related risks associated with fluoroscopy for these purposes include:
The likelihood of experiencing these side effects is very small. If the procedure is medically necessary, the benefit of the procedure outweighs the possible radiation risks.
If contrast dye is part of your fluoroscopy procedure, there’s a small risk of an allergic reaction. Be sure to tell your provider if you have any allergies or if you've ever had a reaction to contrast material.
Fluoroscopy and other imaging tests are non-invasive procedures that provide visual guidance for certain medical procedures and allow your healthcare provider to diagnose diseases and injuries.
The medical benefit of fluoroscopy outweighs the small radiation risk.
Fluoroscopy imaging itself is painless and non-invasive. However, if your healthcare provider is using fluoroscopy as imaging guidance during a procedure such as surgery, you may experience pain due to the surgery, not the fluoroscopy. If this is the case, your provider will let you know what kind of pain levels you can expect during and after your procedure.
Healthcare providers use fluoroscopy for many different reasons. If your provider is using it as imaging guidance during surgery or stent placement, you may be sedated (get general anesthesia).
Other fluoroscopy uses that are purely for diagnostic purposes are painless and actually require you to be awake during the procedure so that you can move certain body parts and/or hold your breath for a short period.
In any case, your provider will let you know if you will have anesthesia for your procedure or not.
The type and interpretation of your fluoroscopy results will depend on which part of your body was examined or treated and why your healthcare provider had you undergo it. Fluoroscopy can help diagnose several different health conditions. Your provider may need to send your results to a specialist or do additional tests to help determine a diagnosis.
If you have questions about your results, don’t be afraid to ask your provider.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Fluoroscopy is a common imaging procedure that healthcare providers use to monitor and diagnose certain conditions and to help guide certain procedures. While the risks of fluoroscopy radiation are pretty small, it’s important to let your provider know if you are pregnant or might be pregnant before undergoing the imaging test. Each fluoroscopy procedure is unique, so don’t be afraid to ask your provider questions about your procedure. They’re there to help you.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/02/2021.
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