Chest Fluoroscopy

By Sara Foster

Procedure Overview

What is chest fluoroscopy?

Chest fluoroscopy is a type of x-ray procedure used to assess the motion and function of the lungs and other structures of the respiratory tract.

Fluoroscopy is a study of moving body structures - similar to an x-ray "movie." A continuous x-ray beam is passed through the body part being examined. The beam is transmitted to a TV-like monitor so that the body part and its motion can be seen in detail. Fluoroscopy, as an imaging tool, enables physicians to look at many body systems, including the skeletal, digestive, urinary, respiratory, and reproductive systems.

Chest fluoroscopy may be performed when the motion of the lungs, diaphragm (dome-shaped muscle that separates the abdominal cavity from the chest cavity), or other structures in the chest need to be evaluated. However, chest fluoroscopy involves a higher exposure to radiation than a standard chest x-ray, so its use is carefully considered.

Other related procedures that may be used to diagnose problems of the lungs and respiratory tract include bronchoscopy, computed tomography (CT scan) of the chest, chest x-ray, chest ultrasound, lung biopsy, lung scan, mediastinoscopy, oximetry, peak flow measurement, positron emission tomography (PET) scan, pleural biopsy, pulmonary angiography, pulmonary function tests, and thoracentesis. Please see these procedures for additional information.

Anatomy of the respiratory system:

The respiratory system is made up of the organs involved in the interchanges of gases, and consists of the:

  • nose

  • pharynx

  • larynx

  • trachea

  • bronchi

  • lungs

The upper respiratory tract includes the:

  • nose

  • nasal cavity

  • ethmoidal air cells

  • frontal sinuses

  • maxillary sinus

  • larynx

  • trachea

The lower respiratory tract includes the lungs, bronchi, and alveoli.

What are the functions of the lungs?

The lungs take in oxygen, which cells need to live and carry out their normal functions. The lungs also get rid of carbon dioxide, a waste product of the body's cells.

The lungs are a pair of cone-shaped organs made up of spongy, pinkish-gray tissue. They take up most of the space in the chest, or the thorax (the part of the body between the base of the neck and diaphragm).

The lungs are enveloped in a membrane called the pleura.

The lungs are separated from each other by the mediastinum, an area that contains the following:

  • the heart and its large vessels

  • trachea (windpipe)

  • esophagus

  • thymus

  • lymph nodes

The right lung has three sections, called lobes. The left lung has two lobes. When you breathe, the air enters the body through the nose or the mouth. It then travels down the throat through the larynx (voice box) and trachea (windpipe) and goes into the lungs through tubes called main-stem bronchi.

One main-stem bronchus leads to the right lung and one to the left lung. In the lungs, the main-stem bronchi divide into smaller bronchi and then into even smaller tubes called bronchioles. Bronchioles end in tiny air sacs called alveoli.

Reasons for the Procedure

Chest fluoroscopy may be performed when a problem with the motion of the lungs, diaphragm, or other chest structures is suspected. Such problems may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • diminished movement or paralysis of the diaphragm due to pulmonary disease or injury

  • loss of lung elasticity

  • obstruction of the bronchioles

  • pleural effusion - accumulation of fluid in the pleural space between the lungs and the chest wall

  • mass in the chest cavity

In addition, chest fluoroscopy may be used in conjunction with other diagnostic or therapeutic procedures, such as guiding the insertion of needles or catheters (long narrow tubes) within the chest.

There may be other reasons for your physician to recommend a chest fluoroscopy.

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