Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What is a Discogram and Is It Painful? - My Experience

IV in Hand for DiscogramWhen my doctor suggested that I have a discogram done to help figure out where my back pain was coming from since my MRI didn't reveal a clear picture of what is going on with my disc at L5-S1.  I came home and immediately started researching a discogram procedure so that I would be fully educated before I made the decision have the test done on my back.  In December of 2011, I decided to go ahead and have the discogram done since I had maxed out my medical benefits.  So my doctor ordered a discogram.  The discogram was scheduled for an outpatient procedure at the hospital.  The test does require a small dose of anesthesia to help you relax while your doctor performs the test, so you won't be able to eat or drink anything before your procedure.

Disclosure:  This post is for informational purposes only and the opinions reflected in this post are my own experience   Your opinions may differ from my opinions.  I am not a doctor, health care provider, or pharmacist. 

My test was scheduled during the late afternoon so I wasn't able to eat or drink anything before the procedure.  In fact, most doctors prefer to take care of patients who have other medical issues such as diabetes or blood pressure issues first, so if you are scheduled later in the day don't be surprised or alarmed.  I arrived at the hospital and got checked in.

The nurses called me back to a room and took my vitals.  It seemed like I waited forever for my doctor to arrive, he came to talk to me before he did the procedure.  Then once he finished, the anesthesiologist came in and asked me a bunch of questions.  Make sure that you answer the questions honestly to avoid possible interactions.  A nurse will place an  IV in your arm and begin giving you fluids before you go back for the test.

When the doctor and anesthesiologist are both ready to perform the discogram, you will be wheeled into a room that looks similar operating room and it has a high tech x-ray machine.  The anesthesiologist gave me a dose of antibiotics to help prevent infection.  After the dose of antibiotics, I was given a mild sedative so that I was relaxed but still alert enough to be able to talk to the doctor.  They want you to be relaxed but awake  so that you can tell the doctor what you are feeling while he performs the test.

The doctor cleaned my back with iodine and laid the blue paper over my back.  Then he took a needle that was filled with dye and inserted into my back.  The doctor uses a high powered x-ray machine called a fluoroscope, it is a high-tech x-ray machine that allows the doctors to be able to see where they are injecting the needle into the spine.  Then the doctor guided the needle into L5-S1 disc, my disc that appeared unhealthy on my MRI.  When he injected the dye into my disc, I immediately felt that all too familiar pain that I have been feeling on a daily basis.  I knew that this was where my pain was coming from and the source of most of my back pain.

My doctor decided to inject L4-L5 as well, to make sure that I was in fact feeling the pain from just one disc.  When my doctor injected into this disc, I only felt pressure and it wasn't painful at all.  This means that this disc is fairly normal.  After he finished, I was immediately transferred back to the rolling bed and sent off to have a CT Scan.  

A CT Scan is performed so that your doctor can see the discs clearly after the dye was injected.  A CT Scan doesn't take very long and is a high powered x-ray machine that takes cross-section photos.  Once you are finished with the CT Scan, you will be transferred to a recovery room.  While in the recovery room, the nurse comes in and takes out your IV.  You will also be offered something to drink, while you wait on your CT Scan films.  You can also get dressed. 

I was released after I was able to keep my drink down and no longer felt dizzy.  They wheeled me out in a wheel chair to the car and sent me home with some pain medication.  I expected to be very sore after the procedure based upon other people's experiences that I read about before I had the procedure done.  However, I remember feeling a bit sore but I didn't feel worse than what I do on a normal day.

A discogram is a diagnostic procedure that doctors perform to find out if you have a problem with your discs in your spine.  During the discogram, it is important that you concentrate on what you are feeling so that you can explain what you are feeling to your doctor.  You are looking for that familiar pain that you experience on a daily basis.  When your doctor injects the pressurized needle that is filled with a harmless dye.  Your doctor will then inject the dye into your disc that is suspected to be causing you pain.  There are only three outcomes for this test:
  • You feel pain
  • You feel pressure
  • You feel nothing
If you feel pain, explain the pain to your doctor.  Does the pain resemble what you are feeling on a daily basis or is it a different type of pain?  

I hope that this post has been helpful.

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Have you been told that you need a discogram?