Myelogram is simply defined as "Roentgenography (radiography that uses X-rays to produce a roentgenogram) of the spinal cord to detect problems like lesions, tumor, and infection to name a few (usually after injection of a contrast medium into the subarachnoid space)". In other words, myelogram, also known as myelography, is an examination, wherein, a special dye called contrast material is injected in the space of the spinal cord (the subarachnoid space) with the help of a thin needle. This dye shows up on X-rays to indicate any abnormalities, by allowing radiologists to have a better view of the spinal cord, meninges and nerve roots.
Prior to the use of myelogram, CT and MRI scans were employed. However, myelography was found to be the best examination for determining the cause of pressure on the spinal cord or spinal nerves. So, what does a myelogram show? It shows a detailed picture of the spinal cord and spinal column, thereby, revealing problems which might be affecting the spinal cord and spinal canal.
Most medical procedures, although necessary for treating certain illnesses, have their share of side effects or complications, as well. And myelogram or myelography is one of such medical procedures.
# Common side effects that a patient may suffer from after undergoing the procedure include headache, nausea, or vomiting.
# In some cases, the injected dye may reach the brain and this could be manifested by a seizure. To avoid this, the patient is advised to keep his head at a position slightly elevated than the rest of the body, while sleeping.
# Side effects also occur in response to the dye injected in the spinal canal. It could trigger off an allergic reaction in the patient, or worse, it could cause a blockage in the canal. The good news is, the odds of these side effects are very low.
# The puncture that is made in the spine to inject the dye, in rare cases, may not close as it should. This could result in a leakage of the spinal fluid. To avoid the leakage, surgeons use some of the patient's blood to cover the hole.
# Infection, as it is with most surgical procedures, is another side effect of myelogram. It may occur at the site where the needle is injected. But again, risks are low.
# Since the procedure involves radiation, there lies a risk of tissue or cell damage. However, the chances of such risks occurring is lower than the benefit of the procedure.
Before undergoing myelogram the patient is required to inform the doctor if he/she is on any kind of medications or if he/she is allergic to the contrast material used in the procedure. This is due to the fact that certain medications (like blood thinners, antidepressants and drugs) tend to interfere with the test. In order to avoid this risk, the doctor may advice the patient to stop the medication for a few days. It is also essential that the patient increases his fluid intake one day prior to the scheduled appointment. It is advisable to avoid solid foods several hours before the exam. Also, expecting mothers must never fail to inform their physician about their condition. This is to avoid the fetus from getting exposed to any kind of radiation.