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Radiology (X-ray)

1. What is an X-ray?

X-rays are one of the oldest forms of medical imaging, and allow your doctor to safely and easily take pictures of the inside of your body using electromagnetic radiation to help in the diagnosis and treatment of many conditions.

2. Why is it done?

X-rays are done for a variety of reasons and are safe and effective for people of all ages. They are most useful in examining the chest, bones, joints and abdomen and may be done to evaluate conditions such as broken bones, pneumonia or cancer.

3. What are the risks?

Some people may fear that X-rays are unsafe because exposure to high levels of radiation can cause cell mutations that may lead to cancer, but the levels of radiation used in an X-ray are so small that the risk of cell damage is extremely low and the benefits that X-rays provide in diagnosis far outweigh any risk. However, if you are pregnant or think you could be pregnant be sure to inform your doctor or technologist as they may want to use another test.  Also, if a contrast medium is required for your exam be sure to inform your doctor or technologist if you have ever had an allergic reaction to a contrast medium.

4. How should I prepare?

Different types of X-rays will require different preparations.  For more specific guidelines for your particular exam please look under Exam Preparation Guidelines. You will find many common exams listed here, along with the specific preparation instructions for each exam. You will receive specific instructions for your particular exam prior to your exam date.

In general, for most X-ray exams you will be asked to undress the part of your body that is to be X-rayed. You will be given a gown to wear if necessary.  You will be asked to remove any jewelry, eyeglasses or any metal objects that might interfere with your X-ray image. In some cases you might be asked to wear a lead apron as merely a precaution 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.

Some types of X-ray exams will require a contrast medium such as iodine or barium because the contrast medium helps outline a specific area of your body on the X-ray film. You may be asked to swallow the contrast or it may be delivered through an injection or an enema.

5. What should I expect?

Depending on the type of X-ray you are having you may be asked to lie, sit or stand between the X-ray machine and the X-ray plate.  Once the technologist has helped you get into the proper position he or she will then move to a shielded control booth to initiate your X-ray.  You will be asked to remain very still and to hold your breath to avoid moving (which can blur your X-ray image). Your technologist may take several X-rays from multiple angles. Your X-ray may only take a few minutes, or for more complicated X-rays such as those involving a contrast medium, a few hours.

X-rays are generally painless and cause little discomfort except for perhaps the hardness of the X-ray table or the coolness of the room.  In some exams it might be necessary to compress the body part that is being X-rayed, which can cause some discomfort.  Also, if you are asked to swallow a contrast medium you may find the taste unfavorable. Be sure to inform your technologist if you experience any adverse symptoms after having a contrast medium.

Young Children

Young children may need to be immobilized during their X-ray to prevent movement that can blur images.  The restraints used will not harm your child but may upset or scare him or her. For this reason you may be allowed to remain in the room with your child during the X-ray to help offer your child reassurance. If you remain in the room you will be asked to wear a lead apron to shield you from unnecessary exposure.

6. Who interprets the results and how do I get them?

One of our radiologists will analyze the images from your X-ray and then report any findings to your doctor. Your doctor will discuss the results with you and recommend any further actions. In an emergency your X-ray results can be made available almost immediately so that you can receive the urgent care you need.