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Why Might I Need Chest Fluoroscopy?

Chest fluoroscopy is a type of imaging test that uses a fluoroscope (a special type of X-ray machine), which allows your health care provider to see live images of the inside of your body. It’s a kind of X-ray movie, but uses more radiation that your standard chest X-ray so your health care provider will make sure it’s absolutely necessary in order to make a diagnosis.[1]

Why Might I Need Chest Fluoroscopy?

chest fluoroscopyChest fluoroscopy is an important diagnostic tool if your health care provider wants to see how well your lungs, diaphragm or other parts of your chest are working. Your provider may order this test if she suspects you may have:1

  • Less or no movement in your diaphragm due to lung disease or traumatic injury
  • Loss of lung elasticity, as evidenced by less air movement within your lungs
  • A blockage in your bronchioles, the tubes through which air passes through the nose or mouth to the alveoli (air sacs) of the lungs
  • A pleural effusion (fluid in the space between your lungs and your chest wall)
  • A mass in your chest cavity
  • During an interventional radiology procedure to help guide where needles or catheters need to be placed within your chest

Before Agreeing to the Test

Before you agree to the procedure, be sure you know:1

  • The full name of the procedure
  • The reason you’re having the procedure
  • The results expected and what they imply
  • What, if any, are the possible side effects or complications
  • The risks and benefits of the procedure
  • When and where you’re to have the procedure
  • Who is to perform the procedure and what their qualifications are
  • What, if anything, would happen if you don’t have the procedure
  • Are there any alternative tests or procedures we could use instead of this one
  • When will test results be available and how will you learn about them
  • Who to call post-procedure if you have any questions
  • How much the procedure costs and for what part of this cost, if any, you are responsible

How Do I Prepare for Chest Fluoroscopy?

There’s really nothing you have to do to prepare for the test. Your health care provider will explain the chest fluoroscopy procedure to you and answer any questions you may have about the test. After she explains the test, you’ll be asked to sign a consent form giving permission for the procedure. You will want to tell your provider if you’re pregnant or think you may be pregnant as exposure to radiation while pregnant may cause birth defects. You don’t have to worry about avoiding food or drink before the procedure. The procedure doesn’t require sedation.1

What Happens During the Test?

Chest fluoroscopy is performed either on an out-patient or an in-patient basis. The way the test is done varies from patient to patient but is generally based upon your condition and your provider’s practices.

In general, the test follows this process:

  • You’ll be given a gown and asked to remove any clothing, jewelry (including body-piercings) and other objects that may interfere with the test.
  • During the test you’ll be asked to stand between the X-ray machine and the fluoroscopic screen. If unable to stand, you be placed on an X-ray table.
  • You may be asked to move in different positions, cough or hold your breath during the procedure. If any of the instructions aren’t clear, ask for clarification.
  • The radiologist will use the special X-ray scanner (fluoroscope) to make images of your chest that will appear on the monitor. This allows the radiologist to visualize how parts of your chest are moving during the procedure.
  • The test is complete when the radiologist has taken all the pictures that she needs, usually in about 10 to 15 minutes.
  • There are no post-test precautions that you must follow.1

What are the Risks of Chest Fluoroscopy?

Fluoroscopy carries some risk, as do any other X-ray procedures. The radiation dose a patient receives during the procedure depends upon the procedure. It can result in relatively high radiation doses, especially during complex interventional procedures such as placing a stent or another device within the body. Radiation risks associated with chest fluoroscopy are:[2]

  • Radiation burns to the skin and underlying tissues
  • Radiation-induced cancers, which would appear years later in life

The probability of a patient experiencing these effects are very low. It’s concluded that if a patient needs this procedure, the benefits of getting it far outweigh the risks.2

For more information about chest fluoroscopy, talk to your primary care provider or your lung specialist.


[1] Johns Hopkins Health Library. Chest Fluoroscopy. Accessed November 28, 2017.

[2] U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Fluoroscopy. Last update March, 2, 2017.


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