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Home > Health Library > Myelogram
A myelogram uses X-rays and a special dye called contrast material to make pictures of the bones and the fluid-filled space (subarachnoid space) between the bones in your spine (spinal canal). A myelogram may be done to find a tumor, an infection, problems with the spine such as a herniated disc, or narrowing of the spinal canal caused by arthritis.
The spinal canal holds the spinal cord, spinal nerve roots, and the subarachnoid space.
During the test, a dye is put into the subarachnoid space with a thin needle. The dye moves through the space so the nerve roots and spinal cord can be seen more clearly. Pictures may be taken before and after the dye is used. To get more information from the test, a CT scan is often done after the X-rays, while the dye is still in your body.
A myelogram is done to check for:
A myelogram may help find the cause of pain that cannot be found by other tests, such as an MRI or a CT scan.
Your doctor will tell you if you need to change how much you eat and drink before the myelogram. You may be asked to increase the amount of water you drink before the test. Follow the instructions exactly about eating and drinking, or your test may be canceled.
Before a myelogram, tell your doctor if you:
Arrange to have someone take you home and stay with you after the test.
Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding the need for the test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results will mean. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the medical test information form .
The test is done by a doctor in a radiology center or in the radiology department of a hospital.
You will need to take off jewelry that might be in the way of the X-ray picture. You may need to take off all or most of your clothes above the waist (you may be allowed to keep on your underwear if it does not get in the way of the test). You will be given a gown to wear during the test.
You will have a lumbar puncture to put the dye into your spinal canal. You will lie on your stomach or side on an X-ray table. The doctor cleans an area on your lower back. A numbing medicine is put into your skin.
After the area is numb, a thin needle is put into the spinal canal and a stream of X-rays (fluoroscopy) is used to help the doctor place the needle in the right area. A sample of spinal canal fluid may be taken before the dye is put in the canal.
After the dye is put in, you will lie still while the X-ray pictures are taken.
After the pictures are taken, a small bandage is put on your back where the needle was put in. You will be told what to do after the test.
This test usually takes 30 minutes to 1 hour.
You may need to lie in bed with your head raised for 4 to 24 hours after the test. This helps prevent or reduce side effects of the test, such as headache, nausea, and vomiting. To prevent seizures, do not bend over or lie down with your head lower than your body.
Avoid strenuous activity, such as running or heavy lifting, for at least 1 day after the test.
Drink plenty of water afterward. Your doctor will give you instructions on taking your regular medicines.
You will feel a quick sting from the small needle used to numb the skin on your back. You will feel some pressure as the long, thin spinal needle is put into your spinal canal. You may feel a quick sharp pain down your buttock or leg when the needle is moved in your spine. You may find it hard to lie on your stomach or side during this test.
The dye may make you feel warm and flushed and leave a metallic taste in your mouth. Some people feel sick to their stomach or have a headache. Tell your doctor how you are feeling.
There is some risk of problems with this test.
Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have a seizure.
Call your doctor right away if you:
Your doctor will talk to you about the results of your test.
The dye flows evenly through the spinal canal.
The spinal cord is normal in size, position, and shape. The nerves leaving the spinal cord are normal.
No narrowing or blockage of the spinal canal is seen.
The flow of dye is blocked or diverted. This may be due to a ruptured herniated disc, spinal stenosis, a nerve injury, an abscess, or a tumor.
Inflammation of the membrane (arachnoid membrane) that covers the spinal cord is seen.
One or more nerves leaving the spinal cord are pinched.
Reasons you may not be able to have the test or why the results may not be helpful include:
Other Works Consulted
Chernecky CC, Berger BJ (2013). Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures, 6th ed. St. Louis: Saunders.
Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009). Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Current as of: December 9, 2019
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Adam Husney MD - Family MedicineE. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal MedicineMartin J. Gabica MD - Family MedicineHoward Schaff MD - Diagnostic Radiology
Current as of: December 9, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine & Howard Schaff MD - Diagnostic Radiology
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