X-rays are the most traditional and well-known radiology imaging technique. With an x-ray, a small amount of electromagnetic radiation passes through your body to create a two dimensional image of a body part or region. The exam is harmless. Physicians find x-rays especially useful in detecting muscle or bone problems. A mammogram is a common example of a safe, low-dose x-ray.
Chest or bone x-rays are available at all Baystate Radiology & Imaging offices. You do need a doctor’s order. We make special accommodations for anyone with an urgent need.
How X-ray Works
X-rays are a form of radiation, like light or radio waves. They pass through most objects, including the body. Once carefully aimed at the part of the body being examined, an x-ray machine produces a small burst of radiation that passes through the body, recording an image on photographic film or a special digital image recording plate.
Until recently, x-ray images were maintained as hard film, like an old-fashioned photographic negative. Today, most x-rays are stored electronically as digital files. Physicians can easily access these files. Sometimes your physician will compare a current x-ray image to older images for diagnosis and to manage disease.
With a chest x-ray, your physician and you receive images of your heart, lungs, airway, blood vessels and the bones in your spine and chest. Physicians also use x-rays to identify and diagnose problems in your joints, lower GI tract, upper GI tract, breasts, neck, spine, limbs and other parts of the body.
Why Physicians Use X-rays
Health concerns about practically any part of your body can be analyzed with an x-ray. X-rays of joints help physicians evaluate changes and problems with shoulders, wrists, hips, knees and ankles.
Chest x-rays allow physicians to evaluate your lungs, heart and chest wall. A chest x-ray is typically the first imaging test used to help diagnose symptoms like shortness of breath, a bad cough, chest pain or injury. Physicians find this exam extremely useful as the first step in diagnosing and treating conditions like:
- Heart problems
- Lung cancer
Upper gastrointestinal tract radiography, also called an upper GI, is an x-ray exam of the pharynx, esophagus, stomach and first part of the small intestine. These upper GI x-rays can detect ulcers, tumors, inflammation and blockages in your digestive system.
Each of the many types of x-rays reveals critical information about the condition of your body quickly, painlessly and accurately.
Preparing For Your X-ray Exam
How you prepare for an x-ray exam depends on which parts of your body will be examined. You will receive specific instructions from your physician or our office before your exam. It’s also important to let your physician know about:
- Any medications you are taking
- Any allergies, especially to barium or iodinated contrast materials
- Recent illnesses
- Any serious medical conditions
- Whether it is possible you could be pregnant
To ensure a clear x-ray image, your technologist may ask you to remove any clothes that cover the body parts to be x-rayed. You may be asked to put on one of our plain cloth gowns for the exam. Please leave at home or remove before the exam any jewelry, eyeglasses and metal objects or clothing that might interfere with the x-ray images.
What an X-ray Exam is Like
Like most imaging exams, your x-ray is a quick, in office procedure. One of our specially trained radiologists or technologists guides you through the entire x-ray exam process.
Our technologist will position you on the x-ray table and the x-ray film holder or digital recording plate under the table in the area of your body being imaged. When necessary, sandbags, pillows or other positioning devices will be used to help you maintain the proper position. A lead apron may be placed over the area closest to the image area to protect you from radiation.
You will be asked to hold very still for a few seconds while the x-ray image is taken. This reduces the chance of a blurred image. We may need to re-position the exam table to capture the x-rayed body parts at different angles.
When your exam is done, we will ask you to wait until the radiologist makes certain the images capture all the necessary medical information. You should be in and out within 20 minutes.
Benefits & Risks
Physicians find x-rays are the fastest and easiest way to view and assess the condition of bones, muscles and some other body structures. The ease and speed of x-rays make them particularly useful for emergency diagnosis and treatment. There are usually no side affects of diagnostic x-rays and no radiation remains in your body after an x-ray exam.
Risk is minimal. While there is always a slight chance of cancer from excessive exposure to radiation, you would have to be x-rayed many times for this to even be a possibility. And the benefits of an accurate diagnosis from a physician recommended x-ray far outweigh any risk.
Exactly how much radiation you will be exposed to depends on which part of your body is x-rayed. Radiation exposure for a medical imaging exam is often compared to background radiation, which is natural radiation that comes from natural environmental sources around us every day. For a spine x-ray, the dose of radiation is about the same as the average person receives from background radiation in 6 months.
If you are a woman, always inform your physician or technologist technologist if there is any chance you might be pregnant.
Limits of X-ray
Because x-rays are two-dimensional and not in color, the medical data they provide is not as rich as that from an MRI, CT scan or other more expensive, more elaborate exams. Each individual type of x-ray has its own limitations.
A bone x-ray may not show a partial tear of the rotator cuff or certain other joint injuries like tears of the cartilage inside and along the edges of some joints. In children, an x-ray cannot evaluate obstruction of the flow of urine from the kidneys. In these cases and others, your physician may need additional exams to make a full and complete diagnosis.
We Subspecialize In Reading X-rays
Radiology & Imaging uses high-resolution, state-of-the-art equipment. The diagnostic detail our x-ray equipment provides is exceptional. Having a radiologist, like ours, who subspecializes in reading x-rays of the brain and neck or x-rays of the abdomen or x-rays of another area of the body means more expertise and experience is at work for you.
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