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Discography

Definition

Discography is an imaging test. It involves injecting a contrast material into a disc in the spine and taking an x-ray . An x-ray is a test that uses radiation to take a picture of structures inside the body. The contrast material helps the disc appear more clearly on the x-ray.

Herniated Lumbar Disc
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Reasons for Test

This test is used to detect if a herniated disc or otherwise abnormal disc is a source of pain. Discs are small, circular cushions between the vertebrae (bones) in the spine. A herniated disc occurs when a disc in the spine bulges from its proper place. Herniated discs can press on the nerves and cause severe pain. In some cases, they can cause pain themselves, but often an abnormal disc is not painful.

Possible Complications

Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:

  • Disc degeneration
  • Infection
  • Nerve injury
  • Injection of dye into the wrong area
  • Bleeding
  • Allergic reaction to the contrast agent

What to Expect

Prior to Test

Your doctor may do the following:

  • Physical exam and medical history
  • Determine if you have any allergies
  • Pregnancy test—this test is not usually needed on pregnant women

Before your test:

  • Arrange for a ride home and for help when you return after your procedure
  • Remove any metal objects from your body, such as jewelry, hearing aids, or dentures

Description of the Test

You will lie on your stomach or side on a table. A technician will help place you into position. You may be given antibiotics through an IV. You may receive an injection of local anesthetic into the skin on your back. This will be done to reduce pain from the needles.

Your doctor will use an imaging test called fluoroscopy. It combines x-ray technology with a TV screen to help guide needles into the discs. A contrast dye will be injected into the center of each disc. If the disc is normal, the liquid will remain in the center of the disc. If it is abnormal, the x-ray will detect any spreading or leaks.

During the exam, you will be asked to rate any pain that is associated with the injections. This can help your doctor find out if it is the abnormal disc that is causing pain. After this test, your doctor may do a CT scan to see the extent of spread of the contrast dye.

After Test

You will be monitored in a recovery room while the sedation wears off.

How Long Will It Take?

About 30-60 minutes (an additional 30-60 minutes if a CT scan is also done)

Will It Hurt?

You may have pain from the contrast dye. Pain can last for several hours.

Results

The results will be given to your doctor. Your doctor will talk to you about the results and treatment options.

Call Your Doctor

It is important to monitor your recovery. Alert your doctor to any problems. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:

  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Severe pain
  • Numbness in your legs
  • Trouble urinating or moving your bowels
  • Symptoms of allergic reaction—hives, itching, nausea, swollen or itchy eyes, tight throat, or difficulty breathing
  • Worsening of your symptoms

If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.

Revision Information

  • North American Spine Society

    http://www.spine.org

  • Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

    http://www.orthoinfo.org

  • Canadian Orthopaedic Association

    http://www.coa-aco.org

  • Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation

    http://www.canorth.org

  • Carragee EJ, Don AS, et al. Does discography cause accelerated progression of degeneration changes in the lumbar disc?: A ten-year matched cohort study. Spine. 2009;34(21):2338-2345.

  • Discography (discogram). Radiological Society of North America Radiology Info website. Available at: http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=discography. Updated September 22, 2014. Accessed December 17, 2014.

  • Modic MT. Diskography: Science and the ad hoc hypothesis. AJMR Am J Neuroradiol. 2000;21(2):241-242.

  • Stout A. Discography. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am. 2010;21(4):859-867.