X-ray imaging or radiography

What are X-rays?

X-rays are the oldest and most frequently used form of medical imaging that allows doctors to produce images of the inside of the body. They often help diagnose fractured bones, look for injury or infection, or locate foreign objects in soft tissues.

X-ray imaging or radiography uses minimal ionizing radiation to produce pictures of the body’s internal structures.

Who performs X-rays?

X-rays are typically performed by radiologic technologists or radiographers who are trained and certified to operate X-ray machines and produce diagnostic images.

How do X-rays work?

X-rays are a type of radiation that can pass through the body. When X-rays pass through the body, they are absorbed differently by different tissues. X-rays have a harder time passing through dense parts of the body, such as bones, which appear as bright white areas on the X-ray image. On the other hand, softer tissues like the heart and lungs allow X-rays to pass through more easily, resulting in darker areas on the image.

What can X-rays diagnose?

X-rays are capable of detecting various conditions and problems within the body. Some examples include:

  • Fractures and breaks in bones.
  • Dental issues like loose teeth and dental abscesses.
  • Scoliosis, which refers to an abnormal curvature of the spine.
  • Non-cancerous and cancerous tumors affecting the bones.
  • Lung problems, such as pneumonia and lung cancer.
  • Kidney stones.
  • Dysphagia, which pertains to swallowing difficulties.
  • Heart problems, including heart failure.
  • Breast cancer.

X-rays are used for diagnosis and guiding surgeons during specific procedures. For instance, during a coronary angioplasty, which aims to widen narrowed arteries near the heart, X-rays play a crucial role in assisting catheter placement. With the help of X-rays, a cardiologist, or heart expert, moves the catheter (tube) through blood vessels to get to a blocked or narrowed coronary artery. This allows doctors to navigate and perform the procedure with precision.

Are there any preparations or precautions for an X-ray?

Depending on the specific X-ray examination, the patient may be asked to remove jewelry, clothing, or other objects that can obstruct the images. The patient may also need to wear a lead apron to protect certain parts of the body from unnecessary radiation exposure. It is important to follow any instructions the doctor provides to ensure accurate and safe imaging.

What happens during an X-ray?

During an X-ray, the patient will be positioned by a technician while a specialized X-ray machine is directed toward the specific part of the body being examined. A technician may ask the patient to hold still in different positions to ensure clear images. The X-ray machine will emit a controlled amount of radiation, which passes through your body and onto a special film or digital sensor, creating the X-ray images.

Is an X-ray safe?

X-rays involve a small amount of radiation exposure. The risk associated with this exposure is generally very low. The patient should inform a doctor if she is pregnant as radiation can potentially harm a developing fetus. The benefits of an X-ray in diagnosing and treating medical conditions are carefully weighed against the potential risks.

What are Contrast X-rays?

Contrast X-rays are a specific type of X-ray that involves using a contrast agent, a substance administered before the procedure to enhance the visibility of certain soft tissues.

There are various types of X-rays that utilize contrast agents, including:

  • Barium swallow: This involves swallowing a barium-based substance that helps highlight the upper digestive system, allowing for better visualization of the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine.
  • Barium enema: In this procedure, barium is introduced into the bowel through the rectum, enabling improved visualization of the large intestine and rectum during the X-ray examination.
  • Angiography: During angiography, an iodine-based contrast agent is injected into a blood vessel. This highlights the heart and blood vessels, aiding in diagnosing and evaluating conditions affecting the circulatory system.

These types of X-rays may need special preparation beforehand and will usually take longer to carry out.


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