A myelogram uses X-rays and a special dye injected into your back to look at your spinal canal and surrounding nerves. It can be performed on your neck, upper back or lower back.
Preparing for a myelogram
- Drink extra fluid the day before your exam.
- You can have a light breakfast the day of the procedure.
- Do not drink any alcohol for at least 24 hours before and after your procedure.
- An adult will need to drive you home; your exam will be rescheduled if you do not have someone to drive you home.
- Notify the radiology department and your doctor if you have any allergies to X-ray dye or if you are taking any medications. Certain medications may need to be stopped before your exam.
- Arrive one hour before the scheduled exam time and wear comfortable clothing that is easy to get in and out of.
- Bring any prior exams of your spine and give them to the technologist when you go into the exam room. Be sure to ask the technologist to return those films before you leave.
- Avoid airline travel for two to eight days following your myelogram.
Find out what documents to bring
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, such as ultrasound, to reduce the possible risk of exposing your baby to radiation.
This exam requires the injection of a contrast medium. If you have allergies or asthma, there is a slight risk of an allergic reaction to the contrast. Most reactions result in itchiness or hives. If you have asthma and have an allergic reaction to the contrast medium, you may experience an asthma attack. In very rare instances, an allergic reaction may cause swelling in your throat or other areas of your body. Diabetes, heart disease, kidney problems or thyroid conditions also increase your risk of reaction to the contrast medium. Immediately tell your technologist or doctor if you experience any of these symptoms during or after your exam. Our staff and physicians are prepared should any emergency situation occur.
The most common side effect of a myelogram is a headache, which can result from a slow leakage of spinal fluid from the needle puncture site. This can occur one or two days after the procedure. About one out of every 15 patients experiences this side effect. The headache is not dangerous and will eventually go away on its own.
Severe headaches, however, should be reported to your radiologist – even if they occur a few days after the procedure. If your headache is severe, a procedure called a blood patch can be performed by an anesthesiologist to seal the leak.
Less common side effects of a myelogram include:
- Infection – we use a sterile field and clean your back with an antiseptic solution to decrease the risk of infection
- Allergic reaction to the contrast medium
- Nerve damage
Report any of these side effects to your radiologist immediately.
What to expect during a myelogram
During the exam, you will lie on your abdomen on an X-ray table and a portion of your back will be numbed with a slight needle stick. A needle will then be inserted into your lower back, and a small amount of spinal fluid removed for lab testing. A dye (liquid contrast material) will be injected through the needle into your spinal canal. You will be tilted up or down and the flow of the dye will be observed by the radiologist. X-rays and a CT scan of your back or neck will be taken for further evaluation of your symptoms.
When the exam is complete, you will be observed for four to six hours. You will be asked not to drive the day of your test and you should drink plenty of fluids and rest for most of the day.
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.