X-ray — Overview describes what to expect during an X-ray imaging exam.
An X-ray examination uses electromagnetic radiation to make images of your bones, teeth and internal organs. Simply put, an X-ray allows your doctor to take pictures of the inside of your body.
One of the oldest forms of medical imaging, an X-ray is a painless medical test that can help your doctor in diagnosis and treatment — even in emergency situations. It's a fast, easy and safe way for your doctor to view and assess conditions ranging from broken bones to pneumonia to cancer. Many different types of X-rays, such as bone or chest X-rays, exist. The type your doctor uses depends on what part of your body is being examined and for what purpose.
How do you prepare for an X-ray?
Different types of X-rays require different preparations. Ask your doctor or nurse to provide you with specific instructions.
In general, you undress the area of your body that needs examination. You may wear a gown to cover yourself during the exam, depending on which area is being X-rayed. You may also be asked to remove jewelry, eyeglasses and any metal objects or clothing that may obscure the X-ray image, because these objects can show up on an X-ray.
You may be asked to wear a lead apron to shield your sex organs from exposure to the X-rays. At very high doses, radiation can damage a woman's eggs or a man's sperm. Because you're exposed to a small amount of radiation during most X-rays, the lead apron is used as a precaution.
At high doses, radiation can be harmful to a fetus. Always inform the X-ray technologist if there's any possibility that you might be pregnant. Your doctor may suggest that you either forgo the X-ray exam or, if one is necessary at the time, take precautions to minimize radiation exposure to the fetus.
This X-ray using contrast reveals a kidney stone at the junction of the kidney and the tube that connects the kidney to the bladder (ureter).
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 X-ray film. You may swallow the contrast medium, or receive it as an injection or an enema. The contrast medium appears opaque on X-ray film, providing clear images of structures such as your digestive tract or blood vessels.
If you're to receive a contrast medium before an X-ray, tell your doctor if you have a history of allergy to X-ray dye, such as iodine.
What can you expect during an X-ray?
X-rays are performed at most doctors' offices, dentists' offices, emergency rooms and hospitals - wherever an X-ray machine is available. If you need an X-ray, you're brought to a room with an X-ray machine and table- or wall-mounted equipment containing X-ray film or a specialized plate for digital recording.
Once you're in the proper position, the technologist enters a shielded control booth. During the X-ray exposure, you remain still and hold your breath to avoid moving, which can cause blurring of the images on the film. The technologist may take X-rays from multiple angles - for example, one from the front and one from the side of your chest.
An X-ray procedure may take only a few minutes for a bone X-ray, or more than an hour for more involved procedures, such as those using a contrast medium.
Your child's X-ray
Resuming normal activities
Last Updated: 12/20/2007
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