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Possible Benefits and Risks of Provocative Discography (Discogram) Test

Published on 2nd April 2019
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Possible Benefits and Risks of Provocative Discography (Discogram) Test

Back pain can be a significant hindrance to a high quality of life. It can leave patients unable to sit or walk comfortably and may keep them from their work, family events or hobbies. The back is one of the most frequent locations for chronic pain because of the long line of vertebral bones and intervertebral discs that must be in perfect condition for a pain-free existence.

Chronic back pain

What Is the Discography Procedure?

The discography medical test is one option for diagnosing the cause of back pain. During this test, the doctor will inject a special dye into each intervertebral disc. Pain with injection indicates that a particular disc may be to blame for the chronic pain. Once the dye is injected, the doctor will take a special X-ray, called a discogram, to look for tears or other issues within the discs. The dye allows for clear X-rays.

How to Prepare for Discography

Patients may need to have several pre-procedure tests performed to ensure that their bodies can handle the discography. For example, the doctor may order a blood test to check for clotting speed and kidney health.

The doctor will also give each patient specific instructions, such as which medications to take in the morning and when the patient should stop eating and drinking. Usually, blood thinners will need to be stopped several days in advance to reduce the risk of dangerous bleeding issues.

Patients should be sure to discuss concerns with their doctors before the procedure. They should discuss possible allergies to anesthetics or contrast dyes as well as the possibility of pregnancy for female patients.

When to Call the Doctor after Discography

Most discograms are done as outpatient procedures, meaning that patients will mainly recover at home. It is normal to have some pain for several hours and up to a day or two at the injection sites. However, patients should immediately call their doctors if they experience severe, debilitating back pain, back pain that worsens or a high fever within the next couple of weeks.

Benefits, Risks and Alternatives to Discography

Discography offers several distinct benefits for patients suffering from chronic back pain.

  • Specific diagnosis of the intervertebral disc causing the pain
  • Quick outpatient procedure
  • High-quality X-ray images with the contrast dye
  • Improved ability to choose the correct treatment.
X-ray images with the contrast dye

However, patients should consider discogram risks to determine if risks outweigh the benefits for their circumstances.

  • Risk of infection from intervertebral injections
  • Possible allergic reaction to dye
  • Risk of bleeding
  • Possible long-term side effects from radiation

For some, the risk of complication from cervical discography or any other area of discography may make them look for an alternative. Some options include the following:

  • Noninvasive physical examination
  • Traditional X-rays
  • CT scans or MRIs
  • Surgery

In most cases, the results from the discography procedure are looked at along with the results from other tests or during physical assessments to determine the correct treatment for the patient. However, discography is often the best procedure to guide the treatment for intervertebral disc pain.

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