X-rays are waves of electromagnetic radiation that can penetrate through objects of low density. They are used in a branch of medicine called radiology to create images of the inner structures of the body such as the bones and organs. X-rays are one of the most common radiology procedures and are usually the first imaging tests to be performed.
How it works
The human body is composed of tissues and organs of varying densities. X-rays directed at the body may get absorbed, reflected or pass through the different structures depending on their densities. X-rays that pass through structures such as bones appear white on film or other media. Less dense tissues, through which X-rays may pass, create shades of grey on the image.
X-rays may be performed to look for abnormalities in bone and soft tissues that may be causing certain symptoms. They may help identify and evaluate fractures, pneumonia, cancer, intestinal obstruction, air or fluid collection, and the position of instruments or implants during a procedure or surgery.
X-rays are usually performed by a radiologist or X-ray technician. You may be instructed to remove jewelry or metal objects that may interfere with the test or results.
The examiner positions you according to the area that needs imaging. The X-ray beam is then directed across the area. You will have to remain still during the procedure and may be instructed to hold your breath. X-rays may be repeated or taken from different angles for clarity.
A contrast dye which is visible on X-rays may sometimes be injected or swallowed before or during the procedure to help improve the clarity of certain areas.
Once the test is complete, you can resume your regular activities. Your radiologist and doctor will review the results and discuss the findings with you.
Risks and complications
X-ray imaging is a safe diagnostic tool that is extensively used to detect many conditions and abnormalities. Small amounts of radiation are used during X-rays. It may carry a small risk of affecting a developing fetus and therefore must be avoided during pregnancy.
Side effects are uncommon when a dye is used to improve the image quality, but may include allergic reaction, nausea, hives, itching and light-headedness.