Fluoroscopy uses X-rays to create images of the body that help doctors see how an organ or bodily system functions. To perform a fluoroscopy exam, our specialists use a fluoroscope, which consists of an X-ray source and a fluorescent screen.
Among other uses, we use fluoroscopic imaging to study both upper and lower tracts of the gastrointestinal (GI) system. The upper GI exam is an X-ray exam of the pharynx, esophagus, stomach and duodenum, which is part of the small intestine. The lower GI exam (or barium enema) is an X-ray exam of the large intestine, or colon, and sometimes the appendix.
Both exams use a contrast medium known as barium, or in some cases gastrografin, which enhances the bodily area of interest in the image.
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Preparing for a fluoroscopy exam
For upper GI exams: The night before your exam, do not eat or drink anything after 10 PM. Also, refrain from smoking or chewing gum before your exam.
For lower GI exams:
- The day before your exam, closely follow your doctor’s instructions or the EZ-EM prep package instructions provided by your doctor. The EZ-EM prep package is a liquid diet and laxative that cleans your bowel to help the doctor see any abnormalities more easily.
- You may be asked to remove some, or all, of your clothes and to wear a gown during the exam.
- Remove all jewelry, removable dental appliances, eye glasses and any metal objects or clothing that may interfere with the quality of the images.
For your safety
Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or suspect you may be pregnant. Your doctor may decide to postpone the exam or use an alternative exam to reduce the possible risk of exposing your baby to radiation.
What to expect during a fluoroscopy exam
Our technologist and radiologist will prepare and guide you by explaining the procedure and positioning you to ensure the highest-quality images are obtained from your exam.
Upper GI exam
The exam is painless and typically takes 15 to 20 minutes to complete. You will be given a liquid contrast medium to drink during the exam. The contrast medium is a flavored mixture of barium sulfate and water. In addition, you may be given effervescent crystals with the contrast material to further improve the images.
You will be asked to stand upright as well as lie down during the exam. The radiologist will guide you on how much and when to drink the contrast medium while he or she observes the flow of liquid through your esophagus to your stomach. In some cases, if requested by the radiologist, X-rays will accompany the exam. This will take only a few extra minutes.
Lower GI exam
The lower GI exam typically takes approximately 30 to 60 minutes to complete. The exam involves an enema and is generally not painful, but you may experience some discomfort. You will experience a feeling of fullness, the need to go to the bathroom and/or some cramping. However, it is important that you hold the contrast liquid in until the technologist has completed the exam.
You will be asked to undress for the exam and will be given a hospital gown to wear. You will lie on an X-ray table on your left side. To begin, the technologist will capture an initial X-ray image or scout film to ensure you are properly prepped. This image will be reviewed by the radiologist to begin the exam. The technologist will then insert an enema tip into your rectum to administer the contrast material, or barium. Barium is a water-like substance and is not absorbed by your body.
The radiologist will come into the room to perform the examination and will monitor a video screen as your bowel fills with the barium. The radiologist will take some X-rays and leave the room and the technologist will take additional X-rays with an overhead camera.
Once the technologist confirms that all images are satisfactory, you can go to the restroom. After using the bathroom, the technologist will capture a few more images to observe your bowel emptying the barium.
When your exam is complete, you can leave and resume regular activities. You will be given instructions to help remove the contrast medium from your body. This will likely include drinking lots of fluids. Contact your doctor if your bowel habits undergo any significant changes following the exam.
A radiologist will review your exam images and report the findings to your doctor. Your doctor will then discuss the findings and next steps with you.