Contrast Radiography

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UT Southwestern Medical Center’s contrast radiography services allow physicians and specialists to make accurate diagnoses of a wide range of medical conditions affecting the blood vessels or organs.

Our radiology team performs more than 800,000 inpatient and outpatient exams every year. We specialize in advanced technologies and the latest clinical innovations in today’s changing field of medical imaging.

Imaging Experience and Advanced Technology

Contrast radiography is a method of studying organs using X-rays and the administration of a special dye, called a contrast medium. This test allows the radiologist to evaluate structures that are not clearly evident on conventional X-ray exams.

X-rays work by passing through the body. Because bones block the X-rays easily, they show up clearly. But organs and other tissue – such as blood vessels, the stomach, and the colon – do not block the X-rays so easily. The contrast medium highlights these specific areas in the body and helps them to be seen in greater detail on the X-ray image.

UT Southwestern specialists are highly trained and experienced in conducting and evaluating contrast radiography scans. We offer advanced imaging tools, many of which are not available at other medical facilities.


There are many kinds of contrast radiography procedures. Exams available at UT Southwestern include:

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

Contrast Radiology: What to Expect

The type of test a patient receives determines how the exam is conducted. The doctor will give complete instructions prior to the scan.

The patient might be asked to fast before the scan. He or she might also be asked to drink fluid before the test or might have fluid administered through an IV. The patient might also be given a prescription for a laxative or enema to use before arriving at the appointment. Check with the doctor before taking any other medications prior to the exam.

When the patient arrives on the day of the appointment, he or she will be asked to change into a gown and remove items that might interfere with the X-ray, such as:

  • Jewelry
  • Watches
  • Hearing aids

Contrast medium can be given in different ways, depending on what organ or tissue needs to be examined.

  • If the patient receives the contrast medium through an injection in the arm, he or she might feel a warm sensation.
  • If the patient is having an upper GI or small bowel series, he or she will drink a barium solution that looks like a milkshake. Then the patient might be asked to drink a carbonated beverage or medication to produce gas. The gas helps create contrast on the X-ray.
  • If the patient is having a barium enema, or lower GI series, a small tube will be inserted gently into the rectum and barium will flow into the bowel. The patient might feel the urge to empty the bowel but should hold in the barium until asked to release. Another image will be taken after the patient empties his or her bowel.
  • For angiography and cardiac catheterization, the patient will receive a sedative through an IV, and a local anesthetic will be applied to an injection site on the body. A small incision will be made, and a catheter tube will be gently 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 might make noises as it shifts position and captures various angles. These sounds are normal.

During various examinations, the patient might be asked to empty his or her bladder, hold his or her breath, or make some other alteration so that new X-rays can be taken for comparison. It is important that the patient remain still during each examination.

After the procedure, most contrast medium will pass through the patient’s body naturally over 24 to 48 hours. Patients should drink plenty of water to help clear the material from the system more quickly. If the patient drank a barium solution or had a barium enema, the stool initially might be light-colored but should return to normal in no more than two to three days.

If the patient had an angiography or cardiac catheterization, he or she might be asked to rest in bed at the clinic for several hours.

The radiologist will review the images and send a report to the doctor, who will notify the patient of any findings. The patient might also request to receive images on CD.


It is important to note that while contrast radiography is effective and accurate, it does involve exposure to radiation. 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:

  • Hives
  • Itchiness
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness

Report these symptoms to the doctor, radiologist, or imaging technologist immediately. Tell the technologist if the patient has any known allergies to contrast media or Iodine.

A radiology technologist or radiologist can answer any questions a patient might have about a health condition, including pregnancy, that could affect the exam.

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