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X-Ray: Purpose, Procedure, and Risks

What is an X-ray?

An X-ray is a form of electromagnetic radiation used to take images of the inside structures of the body, such as bones and soft tissues. It is a painless medical imaging procedure that helps doctors diagnose various conditions accurately and create the right treatment plan.

During an X-ray procedure, the patient will be positioned in a way that the body part to be examined is located between an x-ray source and detector. 

Once the machine is turned on, X radiation will travel and pass through the body, where it will be absorbed by the tissues and internal organs. Each body structure will absorb different amounts of radiation depending on its radiological density. For example:

  • Bones will appear white since they have more radiologic density than other structures.
  • Air will appear as black
  • Muscles, fat, and other soft tissues will appear as gray.

An X-ray is a convenient and effective tool used by healthcare providers to assess the health of their patients without the need for an incision. 

Furthermore, X-ray technology may also be used to monitor conditions and even treat chronic diseases, such as cancer. 

Why it's done?

X-rays may safely be performed on babies, teens, and adults. Typically, doctors order an X-ray for the following purposes:

  • Inspect the body structure for a fracture or broken bone.
  • Check the body for penetrating or foreign objects.
  • Evaluate an area and identify the cause of pain or discomfort.
  • Assess if a treatment is working appropriately.
  • Perform routine screenings for chronic diseases, such as cancer.
  • Monitor the progress of an existing condition.

Doctors typically utilize X-rays as a standard diagnostic procedure for various injuries and conditions, such as fractures, dislocated joints, arthritis, tooth decay, and cancer. It may also be used to  screen patients suspected of tuberculosis, pneumonia, and digestive tract problems.

What are the risks?

An X-ray procedure only uses a small amount of radiation for a fraction of a second to create an image or examine a specific body structure. Healthy adults don’t have to worry about radiation overexposure or cancer since there’s little to no risk for both. Additionally, the benefits of X-rays far outweigh the small risk that comes with them. 

However, this procedure has potential risks to pregnant women, children, or if a contrast medium is involved.

Pregnant women

It is safe for pregnant women to undergo an X-ray procedure, but only if the area to be examined is NOT the abdomen or pelvis. If there’s a need for these parts to be imaged, then your doctor may order a different radiographic exam, such as an ultrasound or MRI. 

Adverse reaction to a contrast agent

Sometimes doctors may order the use of a contrast medium to get high-quality images from the X-ray. During such a procedure, a contrast agent may be given or administered to the patient before the X-ray is performed. Sometimes, contrast mediums cause mild side effects in patients, such as the following:

  • Itching and redness
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness
  • Pain and swelling
  • Hives
  • Metallic taste

How can you prepare?

An X-ray is a simple and quick procedure. Typically, patients don’t need to do anything to prepare other than wear comfortable clothing and avoid bringing in jewelry or any metallic objects. Tell your doctor or radiologic technologist if you are pregnant or have a metal implant on your body.

However, some preparations are needed if you undergo a different type of X-ray imaging technique. For example, individuals undergoing contrast X-rays should fast (no food or liquid intake) for a specific number of hours and stop taking certain medications. 

Patients undergoing a gastrointestinal tract X-ray exam should also fast for a certain number of hours. They may also instruct the patient to take a stimulant (Bisacodyl) to induce intestinal contraction or fast bowel movement.

What happens during an X-ray procedure? 

A radiologic technologist will be the one to perform an X-ray procedure. They will usually ask patients to change into a hospital gown and remove any jewelry or metallic items on their bodies. The technologist will then position the patient or the specific body area onto an imaging plate. 

Patients should remain still or sometimes hold their breath (for chest x-rays) while the technologist takes the image. The procedure only lasts for a few seconds.

t-7 X-Ray: Purpose, Procedure, and Risks

Where to find the best urgent care near me?

X-rays are a standard procedure at urgent care facilities, such as Urgent Care of the Palm Beaches. We provide immediate, high-quality treatment options and medical services for various conditions and injuries. Our medically trained team of healthcare professionals strives hard to bring personal medical attention and exemplary patient care. 

If you need a convenient option to get treated for your non-emergency needs, then you can contact us or visit one of our locations below:

The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.

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