What is a Fluoroscope?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A fluoroscope is a device which provides real-time medical imaging of the inside of the body with the assistance of x-rays. The earliest versions of the fluoroscope were developed in the late 1800s and they were at one time used in non-medical applications as novelty items. Today, the use of fluoroscopes is limited to medical settings and they are only employed in cases in which a doctor feels that use of the device is appropriate, with the goal of limiting exposure to radiation.

Fluoroscopic imaging can also be recorded with the use of a camera for the purpose of future study or evaluation.
Fluoroscopic imaging can also be recorded with the use of a camera for the purpose of future study or evaluation.

The device consists of an x-ray tube which emits beams aimed at the body. An image intensifier underneath the area of the body being imaged picks up the x-rays, converts the information into visible light, and displays it on a monitor. Historically, image intensifiers were not available and fluoroscopes had to be used in darkness so that people could see the image. Today, the dosage is much lower and the use of a monitor allows medical personnel to be outside the room, which reduces their occupational exposure to x-rays.

Also known as a roentgenoscope, a fluoroscope can be used for procedures in which people need real time feedback. These devices may be used with radioopaque substances which act as tracers, as for example when someone undergoes a barium swallow for the purpose of studying the gastrointestinal tract. Some examples of situations in which a fluoroscope might be used include certain types of catheterizations, surgical procedures, biopsies, and angiography.

Procedures performed under fluoroscopic guidance are usually supervised by an interventional radiologist who has experience in working with fluoroscopes and can protect the safety of everyone involved in the procedure. Fluoroscopic imaging can also be recorded with the use of a camera for the purpose of future study or evaluation. Some doctors in training find it useful to be able to review videos of such procedures so that they can grow comfortable with fluoroscopy without the pressure associated with doing a procedure on a living patient.

The medical use of radiation can be tremendously useful for some cases, but it also comes with serious risks. Long term exposure to radiation can cause health problems for patients and health care providers. Before any sort of procedure or treatment involving radiation is recommended, these risks are weighed to determine whether or not the benefits outweigh the costs. In the case of a fluoroscope, the dosage is higher than that from a single x-ray image.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@SkyWhisperer - I get a digital dental X-ray once a year and that’s about all the radiation I am willing to put up with.

I don’t plan on ever laying down on a fluoroscopic table and getting the kind of treatment described here unless my life absolutely depended on it – and I would need proof of that.


@NathanG - I think it’s worth the risk personally. Sometimes you have to balance one risk against another. For example, suppose someone has had a heart attack. That could be fatal.

Surely you would want to prevent that from happening again or at least try to find out where the problem was. A real time fluoroscopic exam which tracks the movement of a tracer dye throughout your body would tell you.

There’s no way you could figure that stuff out with a simple snapshot. Also, the traditional battery of exams they give heart patients, like treadmill and stuff like that, are usually ineffective at locating the real cause of the problem in most cases.

The tracer dye is supposed to be the gold standard, from what one doctor told me.


I never buy any reassurances about the safety of a procedure, certainly not with this one. If it’s a “live” video feed then basically the fluoroscopic exam constantly pushes the X-rays through your body to produce the video, right?

If that’s the case, then it has to be more harmful than a standard x-ray which is just a snapshot in time. It’s interesting that the doctors are themselves isolated in a protected room to limit their exposure to the radiation.

If it’s not safe for the doctors then it’s not safe for the patient in my opinion. Perhaps there are no alternatives, I don’t know, but I think that X-ray technology is overused to the detriment of the patient. I’ve heard that too much X-ray radiation may actually make you prone to get certain diseases.

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