Contrast Radiography

Radiography is a test that uses x-rays to create images of structures inside your body. These images help your physician diagnose and treat medical conditions. 

Different parts of the body block the x-rays in various degrees. Contrast radiography is a method of studying your organs using x-rays and the administration of special dye, called contrast medium. 

Keep in mind that x-rays work by passing through your body. Because bones block the x-rays easily, they show up clearly. But organs and other tissue, like blood vessels, the stomach, and the colon, do not block the x-rays so easily. The contrast medium will highlight these specific areas in the body and help them to be seen in greater detail on the x-ray image. 

Contrast medium can be given in different ways, depending on what organ or tissue needs to be examined. This test allows the radiologist to evaluate these structures that are not clearly evident on conventional x-ray exams.

Why Is Contrast Radiography Done?

Because contrast radiography is such an effective tool for detecting and diagnosing disease, there are many kinds of contrast radiography procedures. Your doctor might use contrast radiography to observe your blood vessels or to evaluate the health of your organs.

Various types of contrast radiography exams are given for different reasons.

  • Intravenous pyelography, or IVP, allows your doctor to examine the urinary system, including your kidneys, ureters, and bladder and identify tumors, cysts, and stones.
  • Upper GI (gastrointestinal) and small bowel series are used to examine your esophagus, stomach, and upper small intestine and identify ulcers, obstructions, tumors, or inflammations.
  • A barium enema, also called a lower GI series, is used to examine your colon and rectum and detect polyps, cancer, inflammation, and diverticula (pouches within the colon).
  • Angiography allows your doctor to examine your blood vessels and various organs to detect obstructions, tumors, and other problems in the heart, lungs, kidneys, arms, and legs.
  • Cardiac catheterization is used to evaluate your heart and its vessels.


It is important to note that while contrast radiography is effective and accurate, it does involve exposure to radiation. In addition, some discomfort is associated with various contrast radiography exams, but it is usually minor. Some people have an allergic reaction to contrast media, such as itchiness or hives, nausea, shortness of breath, or weakness. Report these symptoms to your doctor, radiologist, or imaging technologist immediately.

Before the Exam

Contrast radiography is an important tool in diagnosing disease, which is the first step toward recovery. Preparation varies according to the procedure.

You may be asked to fast before the scan. You may also be asked to drink fluid before the test, or you may have fluid administered through an IV. You may also be given a prescription for a laxative or enema to use before arriving at your appointment. Check with your doctor before taking any other medications prior to your exam.

For your barium enema, you will be given a laxative or enema the day before the test and asked to follow a liquid diet for 12-24 hours. Your doctor will give you complete instructions.

If you have questions about a health condition that could affect your exam, or if you think you might be pregnant, please talk to a radiology technologist or radiologist.

During the Exam

When you arrive on the day of your appointment, try to relax. This scan is an important step in your health care.

You will be asked to remove jewelry, watches, hearing aids, or other metallic items that might interfere with the x-ray. After you change into a gown, your technologist will ask you to lie down on a scanning table. The type of test you are receiving will determine how the exam is conducted.

If you receive the contrast medium through an injection in your arm, you may feel a warm sensation.

Please tell your technologist if you have any known allergies to contrast media or Iodine. If you are having an upper GI or small bowel series, you will drink a barium solution that looks like a milkshake. Then you may be asked to drink a carbonated beverage or medication to produce gas. The gas helps create contrast on the x-ray.

If you are having a barium enema, a small tube will be inserted gently into your rectum and barium will flow into your bowel. You may feel the urge to empty your bowel, but please hold in the barium until asked to release. Another image will be taken after you empty your bowel.

For angiography and cardiac catheterization, you will receive a sedative through an IV, and a local anesthetic will be applied to an injection site on your body. A small incision will be made and a catheter tube will gently be inserted into a blood vessel. Contrast medium will be injected through the catheter. 

The technologist will take x-rays at specific intervals. During this time, the x-ray machine may make noises as it shifts position and captures various angles. This is normal.

During various examinations, you may be asked to empty your bladder, hold your breath, or make some other alteration so that new x-rays can be taken for comparison. It is important that you remain still during each examination.

After the Exam

Most contrast medium will pass through your body naturally over the next 24-48 hours. Drink plenty of water to help clear the material from your system more quickly. If you drank a barium solution or had a barium enema, your stool may be light-colored but should return to normal in no more than two to three days.

If you have an angiography or cardiac catheterization, you may be asked to rest in bed at the clinic for several hours.

The radiologist will review your images and send a report to your doctor, who will notify you of any findings. You may also request to receive your images on CD.

Request an Appointment

To speak to an Imaging Services Representative or to schedule an appointment, please call 214-645-XRAY (9729).