You or your child might have been told that an X-ray is needed to diagnose a disease or investigate a broken bone. Before you head to your local imaging center, it can be helpful to learn the basics of the procedure and what to expect at the appointment. Below we outline what X-ray technology is and how it is useful in health care.
What is an X-ray?
An X-ray is a medical imaging process that passes a small amount of ionizing radiation through the body part being studied. X-rays are electromagnetic waves that once passed through the body, create an image on an X-ray plate. You cannot see these waves nor can you feel them.
The various soft and hard tissues that make up your internal body structure absorb the X-rays at different rates and that is what creates the images we so often see in movies and television shows. Dense body parts, like bone, appear as clear white areas on the image, while soft parts like organs, show up darker.
Why X-rays are Used?
X-ray technology is useful in a wide variety of medical diagnoses from detecting tumors to assessing bone fractures. They are mainly used to look at broken bones and joint issues. You regularly undergo X-ray examinations at dentist check ups.
If you or your loved one suffer from arthritis, this type of medical imaging can show doctors how much cartilage has been worn away. Oftentimes children that have swallowed small objects might need an X-ray so that the medical team can decide if further action needs to be taken.
Masses, both cancerous and benign, show up on X-ray images. From the scans, the doctor might decide that a biopsy needs to be completed.
Lung infections, types of cancer, enlarged heart, and even blocked blood vessels can be diagnosed with the helpful technology of the X-ray.
What to Expect During an X-ray Procedure
X-ray scans are noninvasive procedures that do not involve sedation. You might have to ingest or be injected with a contrast material that helps radiologists see internal images more clearly. These dyes are not permanent and improve the visibility of certain organs and blood vessels compared with soft tissues.
You might be asked to remove jewelry, metal objects, or clothing depending on the area of the body that is being examined. The X-ray technologist will either have you lie down or stand up and then place you between the X-ray machine and the device that captures the image. The X-rays pass through your body during this process. Again depending on the area being captured by this medical imaging procedure, you might have a lead apron covering parts of your body to reduce unnecessary radiation exposure.
The radiologist stands behind a partition or in another room while they control the machine. You will not feel the procedure at all and it usually lasts a few seconds. Patients need to remain still so that the final image isn’t blurry. Sometimes more than one angle needs to be analyzed so you’ll be repositioned and X-rayed again.
After Your X-ray
Unless you had to undergo an X-ray scan using contrast dye, you won’t experience any after-effects. Immediately after you leave the examination room, you can go about normal activities. The images that are collected after the procedure are analyzed by your physician and they will report back to you.
Depending on the health care provider you go to, results will be given during the same appointment or they will be sent to your doctor and a follow-up appointment will need to be scheduled. Further treatment options will be discussed with you once your results are in.
Potential Risk with X-Ray Exams/ Are They safe?
Generally, yes, X-ray exams are safe for most people, even children. Pregnant people need to inform their doctor because it might be concluded that an ultrasound scan is the route to go. While X-ray scans do give off a radiation dose in the process, the amount is very low and will not cause damage.
Another issue that comes up with patients is the use of contrast dye. The dye is safe but some people are allergic to it and might have side effects like nausea, a metallic taste on the tongue, and itching. Severe reactions are not common. It is always vital that you inform your physician of known allergens before any procedure.