Imaging test helps diagnose spinal abnormalities

A myelogram is a diagnostic imaging test performed by a radiologist. Your doctor may order this test if you are experiencing back pain or other symptoms that may indicate spinal problems. A myelogram, also called myelography, involves use of dye injection into the spinal column and X-ray, CT and/or MRI imaging that allows the radiologist to see the spinal cord and surrounding areas on a computer screen. Myelography can help detect abnormalities, such as:

How to prepare for myelogram and what to expect

Before the test you may be advised to drink extra fluids as this will help create greater visibility during the imaging process. Be sure to inform your provider if you have a history of seizures, are pregnant, or have had a previous allergic reaction to dyes. You may also be advised to stop taking certain medications beforehand, such as blood thinners and certain types of nutritional supplements.

A myelogram is an outpatient procedure that takes about an hour. You will be asked to remove clothing and jewelry that may interfere with the test. You will lie down on a padded table and will receive sedation (medication to make you drowsy and relaxed). There will also be a brace or harness to help position your body so it doesn’t move during the injection.

Before the myelogram test, a numbing agent will be injected into your lower spine. It may sting slightly but afterwards you shouldn’t feel anything. When the dye is injected into your spinal column, you may feel a warming sensation. Once the dye is in, the radiologist may move the table around to ensure the dye moves into areas around the spinal cord for better visibility. An X-ray, computed tomography and MRI may all be used to produce images of your spine and surrounding tissues and structures.

After the test is complete, you may be kept at the hospital for several hours while the sedation wears off. You will need someone to drive you home afterwards.

Myelogram risks and recovery

Getting a myelogram is generally a safe procedure with few side effects. Be sure to take it easy after your test and resume normal activities as you feel comfortable.

There is a low risk of bleeding, infection, allergic reaction to dye, and some radiation exposure from a myelogram. Be sure to let your doctor know if you have any worrisome symptoms, such as unusual bleeding at the injection site, redness or swelling that doesn’t go away, fever, or headache. Some people may feel numbness in the legs after a myelogram. These are all causes for concern and must be reported to your doctor right away.

Once the radiologist has reviewed the results of your test, the results will be reported to your doctor who will then go over them with you and determine next steps.