Treatments and tests

Arthrogram

What is an arthrogram?

An arthrogram uses X-rays and a special dye to make pictures of your joints.

The dye is injected into your joint. After the dye is injected, pictures are taken using an X-ray machine.

The pictures may also be taken using a CT (Computerised Tomography) scanner or an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scanner. This is called a CT arthrogram or a MRI arthrogram.

Benefits of an arthrogram

  • Used for diagnosis to show detail of joints in your knees, hips, shoulders, wrists and ankles.
  • Can see the structure in and around the joints, including cartilage, ligaments, tendons and muscles.

Risks of an arthrogram

Your doctor knows the risks of having an arthrogram. Your doctor will consider the risks before recommending you to have an arthrogram.

Arthrograms are not recommended for pregnant women.

Possible risks include:

  • Small amount of radiation. The amount of radiation you are exposed to depends on the number of pictures taken and the part of the body being examined.
  • Extremely small chance you could develop cancer in the long term from the radiation.
  • An allergic reaction to the dye. You may have nausea, sneezing, vomiting, itching, hives and dizziness.
  • Skin infection at the site of injection.
  • Infection, bruising or swelling in the joint.
  • Increase in pain, stiffness or swelling in the joint. This may be temporary or permanent, however, it is very rare.

If you have any allergies, tell the staff or radiology doctor.

If you are concerned about the risks, talk to your doctor before the examination.

Preparation

  • Bring your referral letter or request form and all X-rays taken in the last 2 years with you.
  • Leave the X-rays with the radiology staff as the doctor may need to look at them. The radiology staff will tell you when these are ready to be picked up.
  • Wear comfortable, loose clothing.
  • Leave all jewellery and valuables at home.

Tell your doctor before the arthrogram

  • If you are or may be pregnant.
  • If you have any allergies and medical conditions, including asthma, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease or thyroid problems.
  • Any medications you are taking.

Just before the arthrogram

  • You will be given a gown to wear.
  • You may be asked to remove any metal objects.

What happens during an arthrogram

Staff will ask you to sit or lie down on an X-ray bed. The staff will clean the skin on the joint you are having X-rayed with an antiseptic liquid and then inject a local anaesthetic into the skin. This may sting for a little while.

A radiology doctor will use a special type of X-ray machine, called a fluoroscope, to help them put the needle into your joint. Once the needle is in the right place they will inject the dye into the joint. You may feel some pressure in the joint. The radiology doctor will watch the dye on the television screen and once the dye is in the correct location, they will remove the needle. You will be asked to move the joint so that the dye moves around it.

Once the dye has flowed into your joint the radiology doctor and X-ray staff will start taking X-rays. You will need to lie still while staff are taking pictures.

If you are having a CT or MRI arthrogram you will be taken to the appropriate scan area, where you will have your pictures taken. If you are having a CT or MRI, the staff will leave the room and control the movement of the bed from behind a screen. They will see, hear and speak to you at all times. You will be able to speak to them at all times. They will tell you what is happening, when to hold still and if you need to take a deep breath and hold it. If you get stiff, need to move or are feeling closed in (claustrophobic), tell the staff.

When the scanning is finished you will be asked to wait while staff check the pictures.

The arthrogram, including getting you ready on the table takes between 30 to 60 minutes. If you are having a CT or MRI, this may take an extra 30 to 60 minutes.

Consent

You have the right to refuse an examination and may do so if you wish. You may be asked to complete a consent form.

When will I get the results?

The amount of time it takes for you to get your results will differ depending on where you get your scans done. The radiology doctor will look at the pictures and write a report. The pictures may be on films or on a CD.

Ask whether you should wait to take the pictures and report with you, or whether they will be sent to your doctor.

Your doctor will need to discuss the report with you. You will need to make an appointment to do this.

After an arthrogram

You will be able to leave soon after the arthrogram is finished.

After the arthrogram your joint and where you had the injection may be a little sore, but this usually goes away within a day. If your joint is sore, do not lift or do any heavy exercise for 1 to 2 days after the arthrogram.

If you had a sedative:

  • You must not drive a car or take public transport for 24 hours afterwards.
  • You must have someone with you for 24 hours afterwards.
  • You must not operate machinery for the rest of the day.

Costs of an arthrogram

For an Australian patient in a public hospital in Western Australia:

  • public patient – no cost to you unless advised otherwise
  • private patient – costs can be claimed through Medicare and your health insurance provider

For a patient in a private hospital or private imaging site in Western Australia – ask your doctor or the staff where you are having your test done.

Where to get help

  • See your doctor
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222


This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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