Transillumination is the shining of a light through a body area or organ.
The room lights are dimmed or turned off so that the appropriate part of the body may be seen more easily. A bright light is then pointed at a location on the body, typically the head, scrotum, chest of a premature or newborn infant, or breast of an adult female.
Transillumination is also sometimes used to find blood vessels.
No preparation is necessary for this test.
There is no discomfort associated with this test.
This test may be done along with other tests to diagnose:
In newborns, a bright halogen light may be used to transilluminate the chest cavity if there are signs of a collapsed lung or air around the heart. (Transillumination through the chest is only possible on small newborns.)
Normal findings depend on the area being evaluated, and the normal tissue of that region.
Areas filled with abnormal air or fluid will light up when they should not. For example, in a darkened room, the head of a newborn with possible hydrocephalus will light up when this procedure is done.
When done on the breast:
There are no risks associated with this test.
In general, transillumination is not a particularly good test for any of these above-mentioned disorders, and further tests, such as an x-ray or ultrasound, are needed to confirm the diagnosis.
Elder JS. Disorders and anomalies of the scrotal contents. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 539.
Haddad GG, Green TP. Diagnostic approach to respiratory disease. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 366.
Valea FA, Katz VL. Breast diseases: Diagnosis and treatment of benign and malignant disease. In: Katz VL, Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2007:chap 15.
Updated by: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc., George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California.
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