X-ray with Contrast: What to expect before, during and after

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the world of contrast X-rays, shedding light on what to expect, the duration of the procedure, the timeline for receiving results, the conditions it checks for, and the reliability of the results.

What to expect when getting an X-ray with contrast:

How to prepare for an X-ray with contrast:

The type of test a patient receives determines how the exam is conducted. You should be given complete instructions either verbally or in a leaflet before the scan.

You might be asked to fast before the scan. 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 you arrive on the day of the appointment, you will be asked to change into a gown and remove items that might interfere with the X-ray, such as:

  • Jewellery
  • Watches
  • Hearing aids
  • Mobile phones

What happens during a contrast X-ray appointment

Contrast X-rays, also known as contrast-enhanced radiography, involve using a contrast dye. The contrast dye could be injected, ingested or introduced using an enema.

It’s like a dye in that it temporarily changes how your insides appear on a medical image, but it won’t change the colour of anything or hurt you.

Before the procedure, a radiologic technologist will explain the process and address any concerns you may have. You may be asked about allergies or other medical conditions to ensure your safety during the examination.

Once ready, you'll be positioned on an X-ray table, and the contrast material will be administered. This can be done through injection, swallowing, or, in some cases, by enema. The contrast material helps to make certain structures or organs more visible in the X-ray images.

Duration of the Procedure:

Contrast X-ray procedures are typically efficient and can last anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes, depending on the specific area being examined and the complexity of the study. The radiologic technologist will guide you through each step, ensuring your comfort and cooperation during imaging.

Results Timeline:

The turnaround time for Contrast X-ray results can vary. In many cases, preliminary results may be available immediately after the scan. However, a comprehensive analysis by a radiologist is often required for a more accurate diagnosis.

Final results are usually available within a day or two, and your healthcare provider will communicate these findings to you.

What is in the contrast dye?

Iodine-based or barium-sulfate solutions are often used for contrast dyes, highlighting specific body areas in an X-ray.

How long does it take for contrast dye to leave your body?

You should drink at least eight glasses of water throughout the day to help flush the contrast out of your body. The contrast dye will not change the colour of your urine.

What are the side effects of contrast dye?

While contrast dye is generally safe and widely used in medical imaging procedures, it's essential to be aware that, like any medical intervention, there can be potential side effects. It's important to note that serious reactions are relatively rare. However, here are some common and less common side effects associated with contrast dye:

Common side effects from contrast dye:

  • Warmth or Flushing
  • Many people experience a sensation of warmth or flushing throughout their body during the injection of the contrast dye. This is generally mild and temporary.

  • Metallic Taste
  • injection. This is a common and harmless side effect.

  • Mild Nausea
  • Nausea is a less common side effect but may occur in some cases. It's usually mild and transient.

  • Headache
  • Occasionally, patients may experience a mild headache after administering contrast dye.

Less common side effects from contrast dye:

  • Allergic Reactions
  • Allergic reactions to contrast dye can occur, ranging from mild to severe. Symptoms may include itching, hives, or more severe reactions such as difficulty breathing or swelling of the face and throat. Severe allergic reactions are rare but can be life-threatening.

  • Kidney Issues
  • Contrast dye can potentially affect kidney function, particularly in individuals with pre-existing kidney conditions. This is more likely in those with impaired kidney function or certain risk factors. It's crucial to inform your healthcare provider about any kidney issues before undergoing a procedure involving contrast dye.

  • Low Blood Pressure
  • In some cases, the injection of contrast dye may cause a temporary drop in blood pressure. This is typically mild and transient.

  • Cardiac Issues
  • Individuals with a history of heart problems may experience irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias) during or after the procedure, although this is rare.

It's important to inform your healthcare provider if you have a history of allergies, asthma, kidney problems, or any other conditions that might increase the risk of a reaction to contrast dye. Additionally, healthcare providers are well-trained to manage and respond to any potential side effects or complications that may arise during or after the procedure.

If you experience severe or persistent symptoms after a contrast dye procedure, seeking prompt medical attention is crucial. In emergency situations, such as difficulty breathing or a severe allergic reaction, immediate medical attention is necessary.

Before undergoing any medical imaging procedure involving contrast dye, your healthcare provider will carefully assess the potential risks and benefits based on your individual health profile. Always communicate openly with your healthcare team about any concerns or questions you may have regarding the use of contrast dye.

What Contrast X-rays Check For:

Contrast X-rays are a versatile imaging technique that enhances the visibility of specific structures or areas within the body. These scans help radiologists and healthcare providers diagnose and evaluate various medical conditions. The specific applications of Contrast X-rays include:

  • Angiography:
  • Angiography, utilizing contrast dye, allows for the visualization of blood vessels. It is commonly used to identify and assess conditions such as arterial blockages, aneurysms, and abnormalities in the vascular system.

  • Gastrointestinal Imaging:
  • Angiography, utilizing contrast dye, allows for the visualization of blood vessels. It is commonly used to identify and assess conditions such as arterial blockages, aneurysms, and abnormalities in the vascular system.

  • Urinary Tract Examinations:
  • Contrast X-rays can be employed to examine the urinary system, including the kidneys, bladder, and ureters. This helps identify conditions such as kidney stones, tumors, or abnormalities in the urinary tract.

  • Joint and Soft Tissue Evaluation:
  • Contrast X-rays can enhance the visibility of soft tissues, including joints. This is particularly useful in diagnosing issues such as tears, inflammation, or structural abnormalities in joints.

  • Cerebral Angiography:
  • This specialized form of angiography focuses on blood vessels in the brain. It is employed to identify conditions such as aneurysms, arteriovenous malformations, or other vascular issues within the brain.

  • Mammography:
  • In some cases, contrast-enhanced mammography may be used to provide additional information in breast imaging. It can help identify abnormalities in breast tissue, including detecting tumors or other changes.

Accuracy and Reliability:

Contrast X-rays are generally considered highly reliable when performed by experienced professionals. However, like any diagnostic test, there is a small margin of error.

Factors such as patient movement during the procedure, individual variations in anatomy, or technical issues may contribute to occasional inaccuracies. It's important to discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider, who can provide additional context and guidance. If you are ever in doubt, you are able to seek a medical opinion.

How to get a second opinion on a contrast X-ray scan?

Contrast X-rays play a pivotal role in diagnosing a range of medical conditions such as pediatric sports injuries, musculoskeletal and abdominal issues by providing detailed images of internal structures. Seeking a second opinion can provide peace of mind and help ensure you receive the right diagnosis and treatment plan. We offer second opinions on a wide range of radiology scans


Written By: Dr Ali Rahman