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Diagnostic Imaging or X-ray

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X RayHow X-ray Works

An X-ray is a painless test that passes small, safe amounts of radiation through your body to produce images of the structures inside your body.

X-ray beams pass through your body and are absorbed in different amounts, depending on the density of the material they pass through. Dense materials, such as bone and metal, show up as white on X-rays. The air in your lungs shows up as black. Fat and muscle appear as shades of gray.

Why It Is Done

Diagnostic imaging helps health care providers see structures inside your body so they can:

  • Diagnose the cause of your symptoms
  • Monitor how well your body is responding to a treatment you are receiving
  • Screen for different illnesses, such as breast cancer, colon cancer or heart disease

X-ray imaging is used to examine many parts of the body, including:

  • Bones and teeth – to detect fractures, infections, arthritis, dental decay, osteoporosis or bone cancer
  • Chest – to detect lung infections or lung cancer, breast cancer, enlarged heart or blocked blood vessels
  • Abdomen – to detect digestive tract problems or swallowed items

Various types of fluorosopy diagnostic X-ray procedures are ordered for different reasons. Common procedures include:

  • Angiography, to show the function of blood vessels in the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, arms and legs
  • Arthrogram, to show injury or disease in joints, arms and legs.
  • Upper gastrointestinal (GI) series, to evaluate the function of the esophagus, stomach and upper small intestine
  • Lower GI series, to evaluate the colon and rectum
  • Intravenous pyelogram, to evaluate the kidneys, ureters and bladder
  • Mammography, to create images of breast tissue for detection of abnormalities

What to Expect

Most routine X-rays do not require patients to prepare for the exam. Some studies, such as contrast radiography or barium enemas, do have special instructions to follow before the test.

Before the Test

Patients might be asked to:

  • Make dietary changes leading up to the exam
  • Leave jewelry and other metal objects at home
  • Avoid using deodorants, body powders or creams on the day of the appointment

During the Test

Each diagnostic X-ray procedure may have a slightly different process. You may be asked to change into a gown and then stand, sit or lie down on a table that is near an X-ray machine. A technician may use pillows or sandbags to help you hold the position, and an apron or shield may be placed over your body to protect sensitive organs during the exam.

The X-ray machine produces a safe level of radiation that passes through your body and records an image on a specialized plate. The machine will take several X-rays, and you may be asked to adjust position during the test. You may be asked to briefly hold your breath to avoid moving so that the image doesn't blur.

You can't feel an X-ray. You might be asked to wait until the radiologist reviews images to be sure additional images aren’t needed.

After the Test

Routine X-rays usually have no side effects. However, if you're injected with contrast medium before your X-rays, drink plenty of fluids to help rid your body of it. Call your doctor if you have pain, swelling or redness at the injection site.