X-ray

X-ray, also called radiography, is the most common form of medical imaging. An X-ray machine sends particles through your body, and images are recorded on a computer or film. Dense structures (bone, metal, or contrast material) will appear white. Less dense structures will appear as shades of gray. Air will appear black.

What is an x-ray?

X-ray image.

An X-ray uses a small amount of radiation to create images of your bones and internal organs. X-rays are most often used to detect bone or joint problems, or to check the heart and lungs (chest X-ray).

Let the technologist know

 Tell the technologist if you:

  • Are or may be pregnant

  • Have had an X-ray of this part of your body before

  • Have metal in the part of your body being imaged

Before your test

Here is what to expect before the test: 

  • You may be asked to remove your watch, jewelry, or garments with metal closures from the part of your body being imaged. These items can block part of the image.

  • You may be asked to put on a gown.

  • You may be asked about your overall health or any medicines you take.

During your test

Here is what to expect during the test: 

  • You will be asked to lie on a table, sit, or stand.

  • A lead apron may be draped over part of your body to shield it from the X-rays.

  • With an X-ray of your chest or belly, you will have to take a deep breath and hold it for a few seconds.

  • Each exam usually needs at least 2 X-rays. You will need to move your body before each new X-ray.

After your test

Here is what to expect after the test: 

Your healthcare provider will discuss the test results with you during a follow-up appointment or over the phone.

Your next appointment is:__________________

 

What is an abdominal X-ray?

X-rays use beams of energy that pass through body tissues onto a special film and make a picture. They show pictures of your internal tissues, bones, and organs. Bone and metal show up as white on X-rays.

X-rays of the belly may be done to check the area for causes of abdominal pain. It can also be done to find an object that has been swallowed or to look for a blockage or a hole in the intestine.

Abdominal X-rays may be taken in the following positions:

  • Standing up
  • Lying flat with the exposure made from above
  • Lying flat with the exposure made from the side of the patient
  • The left side-lying position may be used for people who can’t stand up

When 2 or more of these views are taken, the set of films may be called an obstruction series. This series of X-rays is done to try to locate a site of an intestinal or abdominal blockage.

Why might I need an abdominal X-ray?

Abdominal X-rays may be used to diagnose causes of abdominal pain. These can include things such as masses, holes in the intestine, or blockages. Abdominal X-rays may be done before other tests that look at the GI tract or urinary tract. These include an abdominal CT scan and renal or kidney tests.

Basic information regarding the size, shape, and position of abdominal organs can be seen with abdominal X-rays. Stones in the gallbladder, kidneys, or ureters may be seen. Calcification of the aorta may also be seen with an abdominal X-ray. There may be other reasons for your healthcare provider to recommend an abdominal X-ray.

What are the risks of an abdominal X-ray?

You may want to ask your healthcare provider about the amount of radiation used during the procedure. Also ask about the risks related to your particular situation.

If you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant, you should tell your healthcare provider. Being exposed to radiation during pregnancy may lead to birth defects.

There may be other risks depending on your specific medical problem. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider prior to the procedure.

Recent barium X-rays of the abdomen or belly may affect the accuracy of an abdominal X-ray.

How do I get ready for an abdominal X-ray?

  • Your healthcare provider will explain the procedure to you and give you a chance to ask any questions about the procedure.
  • Generally, no prior preparation, such as not eating or sedation (drugs that make you sleepy) is required.
  • Tell your healthcare provider and the radiologic technologist if you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant.
  • Tell your healthcare provider and radiologic technologist if you have taken a medicine that contains bismuth in the past 4 days. Medicines that have bismuth may get in the way of the testing procedures.
  • Based on your medical problem, your healthcare provider may ask for other specific preparation.

What happens during an abdominal X-ray?

Abdominal X-rays may be done on an outpatient basis or as part of your hospital stay. Tests and procedures may vary depending on your condition.

Generally, abdominal X-rays follow this process:

  1. You will be asked to remove any clothing, jewelry, or other objects that might get in the way during the procedure.
  2. If you are asked to remove clothing, you will be given a gown to wear.
  3. You will be positioned in a way that carefully places the part of the abdomen or belly to be X-rayed between the X-ray machine and the film. You may be asked to stand up, lie flat on a table, or lie on your side on a table, depending on the X-ray view your healthcare provider has asked for. You may have X-rays taken from more than one position.
  4. Body parts not being imaged may be covered with a lead apron or shield to limit exposure to the X-rays.
  5. Once you are positioned, you will be asked to hold still for a few moments while the X-ray is taken. You may be asked to hold your breath at various times during the X-ray. It is very important to stay completely still while the X-ray is taken. Any movement may alter the image and may even require another X-ray to be done.
  6. The X-ray beam is then focused on the area to be examined.
  7. The radiologic technologist steps behind a protective window while the image is taken.

While the X-ray procedure itself causes no pain, the manipulation of the body part being examined may cause some discomfort or pain, particularly if you’ve recently had surgery or been injured. The radiologic technologist will use all possible comfort measures and complete the procedure as quickly as possible to minimize any discomfort or pain.

What happens after an abdominal X-ray?

Generally there is no special type of care after abdominal X-rays. Your healthcare provider may give you other instructions, depending on your situation.

Next steps

Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:

  • The name of the test or procedure
  • The reason you are having the test or procedure
  • What results to expect and what they mean
  • The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
  • What the possible side effects or complications are
  • When and where you are to have the test or procedure
  • Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are
  • What would  happen if you did not have the test or procedure
  • Any alternative tests or procedures to think about
  • When and how will you get the results
  • Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems
  • How much will you have to pay for the test or procedure

What is a chest X-ray?

A chest X-ray is an imaging test that uses X-rays to look at the structures and organs in your chest. It can help your healthcare provider see how well your lungs and heart are working. Certain heart problems can cause changes in your lungs. Certain diseases can cause changes in the structure of the heart or lungs.

Chest X-rays can show your healthcare provider the size, shape, and location of the following:

  • Heart
  • Lungs
  • Bronchi
  • Aorta
  • Pulmonary arteries
  • Middle chest area (mediastinum)
  • Bones of your chest

It uses a small amount of radiation to make pictures of these areas.

Why might I need a chest X-ray?

Your healthcare provider may order a chest X-ray to see how well your heart or lungs are working. You may need a chest X-ray if it is suspected that you have any of the following:

  • Enlarged heart which can mean you have a congenital heart defect or cardiomyopathy
  • Fluid in the space between your lungs and your chest wall (pleural effusion)
  • Pneumonia or another lung problem
  • Ballooning of the aorta or another great blood vessel (aneurysm)
  • Broken bone
  • Hardening of a heart valve or aorta (calcification)
  • Tumors or cancer
  • Diaphragm that has moved out of place (hernia)
  • Inflammation of the lining of the lung (pleuritis)
  • Fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema) which can mean you have congestive heart failure

You may also need a chest X-ray:

  • As part of a complete physical exam or before you have surgery
  • To check on symptoms related to the heart or lungs
  • To see how well treatment if working or how a disease is progressing
  • To check on your lungs and chest cavity after surgery
  • To see where implanted pacemaker wires and other internal devices are located

These other devices include central venous catheters, endotracheal tubes, chest tubes, and nasogastric tubes.

Your healthcare provider may have other reasons to recommend a chest X-ray.

What are the risks of a chest X-ray?

You may want to ask your healthcare provider about the amount of radiation used during the test. Also ask about the risks as they apply to you.

Consider writing down all X-rays you get, including past scans and X-rays for other health reasons. Show this list to your healthcare provider. The risks of radiation exposure may be tied to the number of X-rays you have and the X-ray treatments you have over time.

Tell your healthcare provider if you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant. Radiation exposure during pregnancy may lead to birth defects.

You may have other risks depending on your specific health condition. Talk with your healthcare provider about any concerns you have before the procedure.

How do I get ready for a chest X-ray?

  • Your healthcare provider will explain the procedure to you. Ask any questions you have about the procedure.
  • You may be asked to sign a consent form that gives permission to do the procedure. Read the form carefully and ask questions if anything is not clear.
  • You usually do not need to stop eating or drinking before the test. You also usually will not need medicine to help you relax (sedation).
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant.
  • Wear clothing that you can easily take off. Or wear clothing that lets the radiologist reach your chest.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you have any body piercings on your chest.
  • Follow any other instructions your healthcare provider gives you to get ready.

What happens during a chest X-ray?

You may have a chest X-ray as an outpatient or as part of your stay in a hospital. The way the test is done may vary depending on your condition and your healthcare provider’s practices.

Generally, a chest X-ray follows this process:

  1. You will be asked to remove any clothing, jewelry, or other objects that may get in the way of the test.
  2. You will be given a gown to wear.
  3. You may be asked to lie down, sit, or stand. Your position depends on what images the technologist needs.
  4. For a standing or sitting image, you will stand or sit in front of the X-ray plate. You will be asked to roll your shoulders forward, take in a deep breath, and hold it until the X-ray is made. If you are unable to hold your breath, the technologist will take the picture by watching how you breathe.
  5. You will need to stay still during the X-ray. Moving during the X-ray may affect the quality of the image.
  6. For a side-angle view of the chest, you will be asked to turn to your side and raise your arms above your head. You will be told to take in a deep breath and hold it as the X-ray is made.
  7. The technologist will step behind a special window while the images are being made.

The chest X-ray is not painful. But you may have some discomfort or pain from moving into different positions if you have had recent surgery or an injury. The technologist will use all possible comfort measures and do the scan as quickly as possible to minimize any discomfort or pain.

What happens after a chest X-ray?

You do not need any special care after a chest X-ray. Your healthcare provider may give you other instructions, depending on your situation.

Next steps

Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:

  • The name of the test or procedure
  • The reason you are having the test or procedure
  • What results to expect and what they mean
  • The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
  • What the possible side effects or complications are
  • When and where you are to have the test or procedure
  • Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are
  • What would happen if you did not have the test or procedure
  • Any alternative tests or procedures to think about
  • When and how will you get the results
  • Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems
  • How much will you have to pay for the test or procedure

What is a kidney, ureter, and bladder X-ray?

This type of X-ray may be done to check the stomach for causes of pain. It may also be done to check the organs and structures of the urinary or gastrointestinal (GI) system. The X-ray may be the first diagnostic procedure used to check the urinary system.

X-rays use beams of energy that pass through body tissues onto a special film and make a picture. They show pictures of your internal tissues, bones, and organs.

Why might I need a kidney, ureter, and bladder X-ray?

The X-ray may be done to diagnose the cause of stomach pain. This can include things such as masses, perforations, or blockage. The X-ray may be taken to look at the urinary tract before other diagnostic procedures are done. Stones in the kidneys or ureters may be noted.

There may be other reasons for your healthcare provider to recommend an X-ray.

What are the risks of a kidney, ureter, and bladder X-ray?

You may want to ask your healthcare provider about the amount of radiation used during the procedure and the risks related to your particular situation. Keep a record of your past history of radiation exposure. Tell your healthcare provider about any previous scans and other types of X-rays. Risks associated with radiation exposure may be related to the total number of X-ray exams or treatments over a long period of time.

Tell your healthcare provider if you are pregnant or think that you may be pregnant. Radiation exposure during pregnancy may lead to birth defects.

There may be other risks depending on your specific medical problem. Discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider before the procedure.

Certain things make an X-ray less accurate. These include:

  • Recent barium X-rays of the stomach
  • Gas, feces, or foreign body in the intestine
  • Masses in the uterus or ovary

How do I get ready for a kidney, ureter, and bladder X-ray?

Recommendations for preparation include the following:
  • Your healthcare provider will explain the procedure to you and offer you the opportunity to ask any questions that you might have about the procedure.
  • Generally, no prior preparation, such as fasting or sedation, is required.
  • Tell the radiologic technologist if you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant.
  • Tell your healthcare provider and radiologic technologist if you have taken a medicine that contains bismuth, such as Pepto-Bismol, in the past four days. Medicines that contain bismuth may get in the way with testing procedures.
  • Based on your medical problem, your healthcare provider may request other specific preparation.

What happens during a kidney, ureter, and bladder X-ray?

A kidney, ureter, and bladder X-ray may be done on an outpatient basis. It can also be done as part of your hospital stay. Procedures may vary depending on your condition and your healthcare provider’s practices.

Generally, an X-ray follows this process:

  1. You will be asked to remove any clothing, jewelry, or other objects that might get in the way of the procedure.
  2. If you are asked to remove clothing, you will be given a gown to wear.
  3. You will be placed in a way that carefully places the part of the stomach that is to be X-rayed between the X-ray machine and the film. You may be asked to stand up, lie flat on a table, or lie on your side on a table, depending on the X-ray view your healthcare provider has requested. You may have X-rays taken from more than one position.
  4. Body parts not being imaged may be covered with a lead shield to avoid exposure to the X-rays.
  5. Once you are positioned, the radiologic technologist will ask you to hold still for a few moments while the X-ray exposure is made.
  6. It is very important to stay completely still while the X-ray is taken. Any movement may alter the image and may even need another X-ray to be done.
  7. The X-ray beam will be focused on the area to be photographed.
  8. The radiologic technologist will step behind a protective window while the image is taken.

While the X-ray procedure itself causes no pain, moving the body part being examined may cause some discomfort or pain, particularly in the case of a recent injury or invasive procedure, such as surgery. The radiologic technologist will use all possible comfort measures and complete the procedure as quickly as possible to reduce any discomfort or pain.

What happens after a kidney, ureter, and bladder X-ray?

Usually you don't need any special care after a kidney, ureter, and bladder X-ray. Your healthcare provider may give you other instructions, depending on your situation.

Next steps

Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:

  • The name of the test or procedure
  • The reason you are having the test or procedure
  • What results to expect and what they mean
  • The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
  • What the possible side effects or complications are
  • When and where you are to have the test or procedure
  • Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are
  • What would happen if you did not have the test or procedure
  • Any alternative tests or procedures to think about
  • When and how will you get the results
  • Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems
  • How much will you have to pay for the test or procedure

What is a skull X-ray?

X-rays use invisible electromagnetic energy beams to make images of the skull. Standard X-rays are done for many reasons, including diagnosing tumors, infection, foreign bodies, or bone injuries.

X-rays use external radiation to produce images of the body, its organs, and other internal structures to diagnose a problem. X-rays pass through body tissues onto specially treated plates (similar to camera film). It makes a "negative" type picture is made. The more solid a structure is, the whiter it appears on the film. Computers and digital media may be used in place of films.

When the body undergoes X-rays, different parts of the body allow varying amounts of the X-ray beams to pass through. Images are produced in degrees of light and dark, depending on the amount of X-rays that penetrate the tissues. The soft tissues in the body (such as blood, skin, fat, and muscle) allow most of the X-ray to pass through and appear dark gray on the film. A bone or a tumor, which is denser than the soft tissues, allows few of the X-rays to pass through and appears white on the X-ray. At a break in a bone, the X-ray beam passes through the broken area and appears as a dark line in the white bone.

While X-rays of the skull are not used as often as in the past, due to the use of newer technologies such as computed tomography (CT scans) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), they are still helpful for looking at the bones of the skull for fractures and detecting other conditions of the skull and brain.

Bones of the skull

The skull, also called the cranium, is the bony structure of the head. Two sets of bones comprise the skull:

  • Cranial bones. Bones that protect and enclose the brain.
  • Facial bones. Bones that provide the framework for the face and mouth.

All bones making up the skull are attached to each other by immovable joints, except for the jaw bone, which is attached via a movable joint.

The cranium holds and protects the brain. It is made up of 8 bones. They are:

  • Frontal bone
  • Parietal bones (one on each side)
  • Temporal bones (one on each side)
  • Ethmoid bone
  • Sphenoid bone
  • Occipital bone

The skeleton of the face has 14 bones, which include those that make up the jaws, cheeks, and nasal area.

Why might I need a skull X-ray?

X-rays of the skull may be done to diagnose fractures of the bones of the skull, birth defects, infection, foreign bodies, pituitary tumors, and certain metabolic and endocrine disorders that cause bone defects of the skull. Skull X-rays may also be used to find tumors, check the nasal sinuses, and detect calcifications within the brain.

There may be other reasons for your healthcare provider to recommend an X-ray of the skull.

What are the risks of a skull X-ray?

You may want to ask your healthcare provider about the amount of radiation used during the procedure and the risks related to your particular situation. It is a good idea to keep a record of your radiation exposure, such as previous scans and other types of X-rays, so that you can inform your healthcare providers. Risks associated with radiation exposure may be related to the cumulative number of X-ray exams or treatments over time.

If you are pregnant or think you may be, tell your provider. Radiation exposure during pregnancy may lead to birth defects. If it is necessary for you to have a skull X-ray, special precautions will be made to minimize the radiation exposure to the fetus.

There may be other risks depending upon your specific medical condition. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider before the procedure.

How do I get ready for a skull X-ray?

  • Your healthcare provider will explain the procedure to you and ask if you have questions.
  • Generally, no preparation, such as fasting or sedation, is required.
  • Tell the radiologic technologist if you are pregnant or think you could be.
  • Tell the radiologic technologist if you have a prosthetic (artificial) eye, because the prosthesis can create a confusing shadow on an X-ray of the skull.
  • Based upon your medical condition, your provider may request other specific preparation.

What happens during a skull X-ray?

An X-ray may be done on an outpatient basis or as part of your stay in a hospital. Procedures may vary depending on your condition and your healthcare provider's practices.

Generally, an X-ray procedure of the skull follows this process:

  1. You will be asked to remove any clothing, jewelry, hairpins, eyeglasses, hearing aids, or other metal objects that might interfere with the procedure.
  2. If you are asked to remove clothing, you will be given a gown to wear.
  3. You will be positioned on an X-ray table that carefully places the part of the skull that is to be x-rayed between the X-ray machine and a cassette containing the X-ray film.
  4. Body parts not being imaged are covered with a lead apron (shield) to avoid exposure to the X-rays.
  5. The radiologic technologist will ask you to hold still in a certain position for a few moments while the X-ray exposure is made.
  6. If the X-ray is being done to find an injury, special care will be taken to prevent further injury. For example, a neck brace may be applied if a cervical spine fracture is suspected.
  7. Some skull X-ray studies may require several different positions. It is extremely important to remain completely still while the exposure is made, as any movement may distort the image and even require another X-ray to be done to get a clear image of the body part in question.
  8. The X-ray beam will be focused on the area to be photographed.
  9. The radiologic technologist will step behind a protective window while the image is taken.

While the X-ray procedure itself causes no pain, moving the body part being examined may cause some discomfort or pain, particularly in the case of a recent injury or invasive procedure such as surgery. The radiologic technologist will use all possible comfort measures and complete the procedure as quickly as possible to minimize any discomfort or pain.

What happens after a skull X-ray?

Generally, there is no special type of care following an X-ray of the skull. However, your healthcare provider may give you other instructions after the procedure, depending on your particular situation.

Next steps

Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:

  • The name of the test or procedure
  • The reason you are having the test or procedure
  • What results to expect and what they mean
  • The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
  • What the possible side effects or complications are
  • When and where you are to have the test or procedure
  • Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are
  • What would  happen if you did not have the test or procedure
  • Any alternative tests or procedures to think about
  • When and how will you get the results
  • Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems
  • How much will you have to pay for the test or procedure