What is an X-ray (radiographs)?
X-rays or radiographs uses a very small dose of ionizing radiation to produce images of structures inside the body. X-rays are the oldest and most widely used form of medical imaging. They are often used to help diagnose broken bones, look for injuries or infections, and locate foreign objects in soft tissues. Some X-ray exams may use iodine or barium-based contrast material to help improve the visibility of specific organs, blood vessels, tissues, or bones.
Types of X-rays
Sometimes blood tests and a physical exam don’t provide enough clues for a doctor to find out what is causing your symptoms. When a doctor needs more information to make an accurate diagnosis, they will use a diagnostic tool that produces images, such as an X-ray. Here are the different types of commonly requested medical X-rays and the reasons why they are done.
If you have trouble breathing, experience a persistent cough, or feel chest pain, your doctor may order a chest X-ray. A chest X-ray takes a picture of your upper body and internal bones and organs, including the heart, lungs, and ribs. With a chest X-ray, your doctor will look for conditions such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, lung cancer, problems with the size of the heart, fractures of the ribs or spine, or any lung or chest disease.
During the imaging procedure, you will stand in front of the X-ray machine and look ahead to obtain an image. Usually, the X-ray technologist will ask you to turn on your side for a second image. You will be asked to hold your breath for a few seconds while the X-ray is taken. This assists you to stay still and prevents a blurry image.
Your chest X-ray will allow your doctor to quickly and easily view some of the vital organs in your body.
An X-ray of the abdomen shows organs such as the intestines, stomach, and spleen. Your doctor may order an abdominal X-ray if you suffer from unexplained stomach pain or nausea. This tool will help them identify conditions that could be causing your discomforts, such as kidney stones, a bowel obstruction, or any injury to abdominal tissue.
During this type of X-ray, you will likely lie on a table with the X-ray machine placed on your abdomen. A technologist will be there to help you get on and off the table. They will then capture an image of your forehead as you hold your breath for a few seconds. Depending on your symptoms, they may want to take X-rays of your sides or while you are standing.
After your doctor examines your X-ray and finds the cause of your abdominal pain, they can help you feel healthy over or order more tests if wanted.
Kidney, ureter, and bladder X-ray
A kidney, ureter, and bladder (KUB) X-ray is taken to look for problems in the urinary system, as well as gastrointestinal problems. This may be the first test used to diagnose a urinary condition.
With this type of X-ray, your doctor can evaluate your urinary tract and learn the shape, size, and position of your kidneys, ureters, and bladder. They can determine the presence of kidney or ureteral stones or other reasons for your symptoms.
Depending on the vision needed, you may be instructed to stand, lie down, or turn on your side during the X-ray, and you may need to change your position. A trained technologist will be available to help you feel comfortable throughout the procedure.
If you experience persistent pain, numbness, or weakness in your neck, your doctor may order a neck X-ray. A neck X-ray allows the doctor to see the vertebrae or bones of the spine in your neck. They can use the X-ray to look for a bone fracture, disrupted joint, infection, or irritation. If a doctor suspects nerve problems or problems with the spinal discs, he or she may order an MRI. An MRI is an imaging test that excels at providing highly detailed images of the soft tissues in the body.
During a neck X-ray, you will lie on a table and be asked to change your position until your doctor gets the images you need. Characteristically, a neck X-ray process involves two to seven images. A trained technician will be by your side to ensure that you are as comfortable as possible while changing positions.
X-ray of the hand
Your doctor may order a hand X-ray if you feel pain in your hand or have an injury to the area. An X-ray of the hand will show your doctor if you have broken bones, joint abnormalities, bone tumors, or conditions such as infection, arthritis, or tendonitis.
During an X-ray of the hand, you will be asked to lay your hand flat on a table and hold it still while the picture is taken. You may need to reposition your hand several times to provide the necessary images. The technologist will do everything possible to complete the X-ray quickly.
An X-ray of the joints is used to investigate discomfort in the knees, shoulders, hips, ankles, or wrists. Your doctor will look for signs of arthritis, fractures, inflammation, and many other conditions that can cause joint pain, such as gout, osteoarthritis, or rheumatoid arthritis. The technologist will help you position the joint so that you can capture an accurate image. They may need to reposition the joint in some poses to get more images.
If you experienced a head injury or show symptoms of a skull-related condition, your doctor may order a skull X-ray. A skull X-ray allows your doctor to examine the many bones in your head structure, such as the facial and cranial bones. They can look for conditions such as tumors, sinus or ear infections, fractures, bone loss, or movement of soft tissues within the skull.
During a skull X-ray, you may be asked to lie down on a table or sit in a chair. The technologist will help you move your head in different positions to capture various X-ray images.
Purpose of X-ray
An X-ray examination is simple, quick, and available at all radiology facilities. Your doctor may refer you for an X-ray if it is believed that a picture of a certain part of your body could help find the cause of your symptoms and aid treatment. The most communal X-rays are images of the chest (looking at the heart and lungs) and images of the arms, legs, or spine in patients who have symptoms in the bones, joints, or back.
Preparation before for a plain X-ray / radiograph
No specific preparation is required for a plain radiograph.
It is important that you tell your doctor and the staff at the radiology center where you will have the X-ray if there is any possibility that you are pregnant. This is important information as it will make a difference in the way the X-rays are performed or a completely different test might be necessary. Your safety and that of your unborn child is priority number one.
Generally, you will be given a hospital gown to wear, as some clothing may make it difficult to see images clearly. You may also need to remove certain items such as watches, necklaces, and some types of clothing that contain metal objects, such as zippers.
If you are attending a follow-up X-ray to assess the progress of an injury or illness, you may need to take your previous X-rays with you so that the radiologist (medical specialist) who will send a report to your own doctor can compare the new X-ray with the old one and see if there have been any recent changes.
Happens during a plain X-ray / X-ray
The radiographer (specialized X-ray technician) who will perform the X-ray will explain the procedure to you. Depending on the part of your body being examined, your position (for example, standing, sitting, or lying down), the number of X-rays taken, and the speed of the test will vary.
It is important that you remain completely still when instructed by the radiographer, as any movement can create a blurry image.
After the radiographs are completed, the radiographer will electronically process each radiograph and check the quality of the results. While this does not take long, you will be asked to wait in the X-ray room or locker room in your hospital gown. Sometimes additional images will need to be taken to obtain more information to help the radiologist (medical specialist) make a diagnosis. There is no need to worry if this happens as it is quite common. In most cases, the extra X-rays are done to get a better view of the part of your body being examined, not because there is a problem.
The radiographer will tell you when the procedure is over. You may want to ask them when the results will be available.
The radiologist then carefully evaluates the images, makes a diagnosis, and produces a written report on the findings. This report is sent to your referring physician, specialist, or healthcare professional who referred you for testing.
The whole process is simple and you will not feel anything strange or different during the exam.
If you are bringing a child in for an X-ray, you may be asked to help accommodate or keep the child in the correct position for the test. If you are requested to stay in the X-ray room, the radiographer will take all possible steps to ensure that you are not bare to X-rays.
What are the possible side effects of an X-ray?
X-rays use small quantities of radiation to create images of your body. The level of radiation contact is carefully safe for most adults, but not for a developing baby. If you are pregnant or think you might be, tell your doctor before having an X-ray. They may suggest a dissimilar imaging method, such as an MRI.
If you are having an X-ray to help diagnose or monitor a painful condition, such as a broken bone, you may feel pain or discomfort during the test. You will need to hold your body in certain positions while the images are being taken. This can cause pain or discomfort. Your doctor may recommend that you take pain relievers beforehand.
If you swallow a contrast material before the X-ray, it may cause side effects. These include:
- A metallic taste in the mouth
In very rare cases, the dye can cause a serious reaction, such as anaphylactic shock, very low blood pressure, or cardiac arrest. If you suspect you are having a serious reaction, contact your doctor immediately.
What happens after an X-ray?
Once the X-ray images have been collected, you can change into your usual clothing. Depending on your condition, your doctor may recommend that you continue your normal activities or rest while you wait for the results. Your results may be available the same day as your procedure or later.
Your doctor will review your X-rays and the radiologist’s report to determine how to proceed. Dependent on your results, they may order extra tests to develop an accurate diagnosis. For example, they may request additional imaging scans, blood tests, or other diagnostic measures. They can also prescribe a course of treatment.
Ask your physician for more evidence about your specific condition, diagnosis, and treatment options.
How is the test performed?
The test is done in the radiology department of a hospital or in the healthcare provider’s office. The position you are in depends on the type of X-ray being done. Several different X-ray views may be necessary.
You must remain still when you have an X-ray. Movement can cause blurry images. You may be asked to hold your breath or not move for a second or two when the picture is taken.
The following are common types of X-rays:
- X-ray of the abdomen
- Barium X-ray
- X-ray of bones
- Chest X-ray
- Dental X-ray
- X-ray of extremities
- X-ray of the hand
- Joint X-ray
- Lumbosacral spine X-ray
- Neck X-ray
- Pelvis X-ray
- Sinus X-ray
- Skull X-ray
- X-ray of the thoracic spine
- Upper GI series and small intestine
- Skeleton X-ray
Procedure of X-ray
An X-ray technologist or radiologist may perform a test in the radiology department of a hospital, a dentist’s office, or a clinic that specializes in diagnostic procedures.
Once you are fully prepared, your X-ray technician or radiologist will tell you how to position your body to create clear images. You may be asked to lie, sit, or stand in various positions during the test. They may take pictures while you stand in front of a specialized plate that contains film or X-ray sensors. In some cases, they may also ask you to lie or sit on a specialized plate and move a large camera attached to a steel arm over it. your body to capture X-ray images.
It is important to remain still while the pictures are being taken. This will provide the clearest images possible. The test ends as soon as your radiologist is satisfied with the collected images.