What is an X-Ray?
X-rays are electromagnetic radiation used for diagnostic purposes. X-ray machines send x-ray particles, or photons, through the body to create an image that’s recorded on film or a computer. Dense structures like bone block out the majority of photons and show up as white on the image, along with metal and any contrast media like dye. Muscle, fat and fluid appear as grey while air-filled structures appear black.
How X-Ray Tests are Performed
X-ray tests are performed by an x-ray technologist in a doctor’s office or radiology department. The patient is positioned in a way that allows the machine to test areas of interest, such as the lungs or spine. Because moving can cause the image to blur, it’s important to remain still and hold your breath during the exposure, which generally lasts only a second.
Preparing for an X-Ray Test
It’s very important to let your doctor know if you are pregnant, may be pregnant or have an IUD in place. You’ll also need to remove your jewelry and wear a gown during the exam as some materials can obscure the image. If you’re having your abdomen examined and you’ve had a barium contrast study or taken any medicine with bismuth, your x-ray test may be delayed so the contrast can completely leave the body.
Does the Exam Hurt?
X-ray exposure does not cause any discomfort or pain at all, although you may need to remain in an uncomfortable position for a few minutes.
Are There Risks?
Conventional x-ray tests have an extremely low risk of cancer or defects to sperm or ovarian cells. Experts agree that this risk is outweighed by the benefits of the imaging test. You will receive only the minimum amount of radiation required to create the image, although young children and fetuses are much more sensitive to x-rays. Always tell your doctor if you think you are pregnant before you receive an x-ray exam.