Benefits vs Risk of a Myelogram

Myelography Benefits

  • Myelography is relatively safe and painless.
  • When a contrast material is injected into the subarachnoid space surrounding the nerve roots and spinal cord, it allows the radiologist to view outlines of the different areas of the spine that usually are not visible or distinguishable on x-rays.
  • No radiation remains in a patient's body after an X-ray.
  • X-rays usually have no side effects.

Myelography Risks

  • There is always a slight chance of cancer from excessive exposure to radiation. However, the benefit of an accurate diagnosis far outweighs the risk.
  • The effective radiation dose from this procedure is about 4 mSv, which is about the same as the average person receives from background radiation in 16 months.
  • Although it is uncommon, headaches following myelography associated with the needle puncture is a risk. The headache, when it occurs, usually begins when the patient begins to sit upright or stand. One of the common features of this type of headache is that it is improved when the patient lays flat. When present, the headache usually begins within 2-3 days after the procedure. Rest while laying on oneís back and increased fluid intake readily relieve mild headaches, but more severe headaches may call for medication. In rare circumstances some patients may continue to experience spinal headaches, which may necessitate a special, but simple, procedure to stop leakage of cerebrospinal fluid from the puncture site.
  • Adverse reactions to the injection of contrast material during a myelogram are infrequent and usually mild in nature, including itching, rash, sneezing, nausea, or anxiety. The development of hives or wheezing is rare, but may require treatment with medication. More severe reactions involving the heart or lungs are rare.
  • Other rare complications of myelography include nerve injury from the spinal needle and bleeding around the nerve roots as they enter or exit the spinal canal. In addition, the meninges covering the spinal cord may become inflamed or infected. Seizures are a very uncommon complication of myelography.
  • There is a very small risk that pressure changes within the spinal canal caused by the introduction of a needle below the site of an obstruction will block the flow of fluid within the subarachnoid space of the spinal canal, which can make urgent surgery necessary.
  • Women should always inform their physician or X-ray technician if there is any possibility that they are pregnant. 

Minimizing Radiation Exposure

Special care is taken to use the lowest radiation dose possible while producing the best X-ray images. At Sky Ridge, we follow national and international radiology protection council standards.

Modern-day X-ray machines have tightly controlled X-ray beams that filter the beams and control the dose of radiation. This ensures that parts of a patient's body not being imaged receive minimal radiation exposure.