X-ray

An X-ray is a diagnostic test that produces images of the structures inside your body.

X-ray beams can pass through your body, but they are absorbed in different amounts depending on the density of the anatomy they pass through. That is why dense materials, such as bone and metal, show up as white on X-rays. Less dense areas, like your lungs, show up in darker shades. Muscle and fat look like varying shades of gray.

Fluoroscopy

Fluoroscopy studies use a continuous X-ray to produce an image which is shown on a screen. Often, iodinated contrast or barium — is introduced into your body to provide greater detail on these images. Some people may experience side effects from contrast material. Generally, this can be avoided by a simple review of a patient’s history.

Preparing for the Exam

Different types of X-ray and fluoroscopic exams require different preparations. Ask your doctor or nurse to provide you with specific instructions.

If you’re pregnant or suspect that you may be pregnant, inform your doctor and technologist before having your exam.

What to Wear

Wear loose comfortable clothing without zippers, buttons, embroidery, lace or imprinted logos. In general, you will be asked to remove items containing anything that might obscure whatever part of your body needs examination and wear a gown or hospital scrubs instead. You may be asked to remove jewelry or eyeglasses because these objects can also show up on an X-ray.

X-ray beams expose you to small doses of radiation, but the benefits from these tests far outweigh the risks. However, Though the risk of most diagnostic X-rays to an unborn baby is small, your doctor will consider whether it’s better to wait or to use another imaging test, such as ultrasound.

Safety

Radiation exposure. You may worry that X-rays aren’t safe because high levels of radiation exposure can cause cell mutations that may lead to cancer. But the amount of radiation you’re exposed to during an X-ray is so small that the risk of any damage to cells in your body is extremely low.

Why X-ray is Used

X-ray technology is used to examine many parts of the body.

Bones

  • Fractures and infections: In most cases, fractures and infections in bones show up clearly on X-rays.
  • Arthritis: X-rays of your joints can reveal evidence of arthritis. X-rays taken over the years can help your doctor determine if your arthritis is worsening.
  • Bone cancer: X-rays can also reveal tumors in your bones.

Chest

  • Lung infections or conditions: Evidence of problems such as pneumonia, tuberculosis or lung cancer will show up on chest X-rays.
  • Enlarged heart: One of the signs of congestive heart failure is an enlarged heart, which shows up clearly on X-rays.

Abdomen

  • Digestive tract problems: Barium, a contrast medium delivered in a drink or in an enema, can help reveal problems anywhere in your digestive system.
  • Swallowed items: If a patient has swallowed something like a key, or a coin, an X-ray can show the location of that object.

Contrast Material

Before some types of X-rays you’re given a liquid called contrast medium. Contrast mediums, such as barium and iodine, help outline a specific area of your body on the X-ray image. You may swallow the contrast medium, or receive it as an injection or as an enema.

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