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X-ray
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X-ray

(General X-ray)

En Español (Spanish Version)

Definition

An x-ray is a common medical test that involves taking photograph-like images of the inside of the body. X-rays use a small dose of electromagnetic radiation to create the picture. Soft body tissues appear dark and bones appear light or white on the x-ray film.

X-ray of Teeth

Jaw x-ray teeth

© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

Parts of the Body Involved

X-rays can be used on different parts of the body, depending on what is being diagnosed.

Reasons for Procedure

Chest x-rays can be used for:

  • Pneumonia diagnosis
  • Locating tumors
  • Locating infection
  • Looking for fluid
  • Diagnosing heart and large blood vessel problems
  • Presurgical screening

Abdominal x-rays can be used for:

  • Determining the cause of acute abdominal pain
  • Locating swallowed objects or other foreign bodies
  • Locating the cause of an intestinal obstruction
  • Diagnosing a perforation of the digestive tract

X-ray of Intestine Using Special Dye

Radiology colon

© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

Other forms of x-rays can be used to diagnose:

  • Spinal problems
  • Joint damage
  • Bone problems
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Respiratory problems
  • Cancer Problems with various organs
  • Dental problems
  • Sinus infections
  • Brain problems
  • Urinary problems

Risk Factors for Complications During the Procedure

  • Pregnancy—Tell your doctor if you are pregnant before you get an x-ray.

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

Depending on the reason for the x-ray, your doctor will likely perform a physical exam and other diagnostic tests before your x-ray. X-rays are usually done in a hospital or outpatient clinic. Follow your doctor's instructions as to what to do before your x-ray. For instance, you may be advised to avoid using deodorants, lotions, or powders before taking the x-ray, since these substances can interfere with the image.

Before your x-ray is taken, you may be instructed to remove jewelry and put on a hospital gown. If your x-ray is being used to examine soft tissues (eg, organs or veins), you may be asked to ingest a contrast medium (eg, barium) before the x-ray, usually done after an overnight fast.

Anesthesia

None

Description of the Procedure

You will be positioned against a device that holds the x-ray film, or you may be asked to hold a portable cassette against the area of your body to be x-rayed. Other parts of your body may be covered with a lead shield to reduce your exposure to radiation.

An x-ray technician will align the x-ray device over the part of your body being studied. The technician will leave the room and you will be asked to remain as still as possible while the images are being captured.

After Procedure

The x-ray will be sent to a radiologist who will analyze it and report the results back to you and/or your primary physician.

How Long Will It Take?

A few minutes (eg, chest x-ray ) to over an hour (eg, barium swallow).

Will It Hurt?

No

Possible Complications

X-rays are generally very safe procedures. The risk of any damage to your bodily tissues is extremely low during an x-ray, since the amount of radiation used in most x-rays is very small. However, if you are pregnant or it is possible that you may be pregnant, tell your doctor before getting an x-ray. Since there is a small risk of pregnancy complications associated with x-rays, your doctor may decide it is best to wait until you are not pregnant to perform the x-ray.

Average Hospital Stay

None. You will be able to go home after the x-ray.

Postoperative Care

If you ingested a contrast medium, you will be instructed to drink extra fluids so you will excrete the medium quickly.

Outcome

Once the x-ray is complete, you will be able to resume your daily activities.

Call Your Doctor If Any of the Following Occurs

There are no reported complications after this procedure.

RESOURCES:

American College of Radiology
http://www.radiologyinfo.org

Center for Devices and Radiological Health
Food and Drug Administration
http://www.fda.gov/cdrh

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Association of Radiologists
http://www.car.ca

Canadian Institute for Health Information
http://www.cihi.ca

References:

Safety: radiation exposure in x-ray examinations. Radiological Society of North America website. Available at: http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/safety/index.cfm?pg=sfty_xray&bhcp=1. Accessed April 19, 2007.

X-rays. Complete Medical Encyclopedia. American Medical Association; 2003.



Last reviewed May 2008 by David Juan, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


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