What is an X-Ray?
An X-ray is a quick and painless procedure that can help to diagnose and monitor a number of different health conditions.
X-rays are commonly used to look for fractures in your bones after a fall or injury.
It is also used to see for severity from conditions such as infection, arthritis, tumours, or other bone diseases like osteoporosis.
X-rays are a form of radiation. Unlike light radiation (normal light), which is absorbed or reflected by your skin, X-ray radiation passes through your body. An X-ray machine works by projecting a beam of X-rays through the part of your body that your doctor needs to look at. An X-ray sensitive detector then captures the radiation that comes out on the other side of your body in the form of a black and white image. This is called a radiograph.
Structures inside your body that are dense, such as your bones, absorb X-rays and show up white on the radiograph. Less dense structures, like the air in your lungs, let X-rays pass through them almost completely and show up black on the radiograph. Because different parts of your body vary in how dense they are, and absorb X-rays by different amounts, they show up on the radiograph as shades of grey, from the most dense (black) to the least dense (white).
The images captured by an X-ray machine are usually stored digitally and displayed on a computer screen. Sometimes X-rays are processed on film instead, and can be viewed by shining light over the film from behind.
Why should I do an X-ray?
X-rays are done to:
- Find out the cause of pain whether it is due to a bony issue.
- See if your bone is fractured or your joint is dislocated and how severe it is.
- See if fluid has accumulated in the joint or around the bone.
- See if your bones are in the correct position after fixing a fracture or dislocation, such as after putting a cast or splinting an arm or leg.
- Detect any changes to your bones that is caused by infection, arthritis, tumours, or other bone diseases such as osteoporosis or osteoarthritis.
- Look for any foreign objects found in your body such as glass or metal.
- See whether a child’s bones are growing normally.
- See if the bones and joints are positioned properly after a joint replacement surgery.
How to prepare for a X-ray procedure?
If you are pregnant, tell your doctor. There is a risk of radiation exposure to your unborn baby (foetus). However, the risk of damage from the X-ray is very low compared with the potential benefits of the X-ray test. Should an X-ray is deem necessary, a lead apron will be placed over your abdomen to help shield your baby from exposure to the X-ray radiation.
You do not need to do anything before you have an X-ray done.
What happens during an X-ray
X-rays usually only take a few minutes.
Depending on the area of your body that needs to be exposed to the X-rays, you may be asked to remove your clothing, put on a hospital gown and take off your jewellery. There will be a private area where you can do this.
You will then go to the X-ray room and your radiographer will help you to get into the right position on the X-ray machine. Alternatively, you may be asked to lie down on an X-ray table or sit in a chair at the side of the table, depending on the part of your body being looked at. You will be asked to stay still and sometimes, particularly if you’re having a chest X-ray, to take a deep breath and hold it for a few seconds.
How It Feels to Take an X-ray?
You will feel no discomfort from the X-rays.
What are the Risks of Taking an X-ray?
As with every procedure there are some risks associated with having an X-ray. However, the benefits of having the procedure usually outweigh these risks. You will be exposed to some X-ray radiation, but the amount you receive isn’t considered to be harmful.
Different X-rays expose you to different doses of radiation. For example, if you have a chest X-ray you will be exposed to a very small amount of radiation (about the same that you would naturally be exposed to over two to three days).
What are the Alternatives Besides an X-ray?
Depending on which part of your body is being looked at, a different type of imaging procedure may be more appropriate. Alternative tests may include an ultrasound scan, MRI scan or CT scan. Your doctor will discuss with you which test is most suitable.