X-ray imaging is the oldest and most frequently used form of medical imaging for the entire body. It is a painless medical test that helps physicians diagnose and treat various conditions such as determining whether a bone has been fractured, locating foreign objects, and assisting in the detection and diagnosis of cancer.
X-rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation, just like visible light, and an X-ray machine is essentially a camera. Instead of visible light, however, it uses X-rays to expose the image.
To make an X-ray (radiograph), a part of the body is exposed to a small quantity of X-rays, and since bone, fat, muscle, tumors, and other masses all absorb X-rays at different levels; you see different shaded structures on the digital image that is produced.
When properly used by a radiologist and technologist specially trained to minimize exposure, X-rays are safe and no radiation remains afterward.
Types of X-Rays
- Chest X-rays
This test applies radiation to generate images of the bones, organs, and tissues in the chest area. The doctor may recommend a chest X-ray for a variety of reasons such as shortness of breath, fever, persistent cough, and chest pain. It is a fast and effective test that helps in examining the health of the most vital organs. A chest X-ray is used to examine the upper body, the bones, and organs inside, including the lungs, heart, and ribs. X-rays help in determining medical conditions like pneumonia, COVID-19, lung cancer, tuberculosis, heart size problems, spine or rib fractures, or lung disease.
During the imaging process, the patient stands in front of the X-ray machine and faces forward for the image capture. Typically, the X-ray technologist might ask the patient to stand sideways for a second image. He/she is then asked to hold their breath for a few seconds as the X-ray is performed, as any movement could result in blurry images.
- Abdominal X-rays
Abdominal X-rays are usually performed to examine the structures and organs in the belly. This X-ray captures images of the small and large intestines, stomach, and liver. It is one of the initial tests used to determine the cause of nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, and swelling. Additional tests using ultrasound or CT may also be required to determine a more precise diagnosis.
During this X-ray, the patient lies flat on a table with the X-ray machine placed over their abdomen. The images of the front are captured with the breath held. Based on the symptoms, additional X-rays may be taken from the side or in a standing position.
- Kidney, Ureter, and Bladder X-ray
Also called KUB X-rays, this test is performed to evaluate the abdominal area for determining the possible causes of abdominal pain, or to assess the organs and structures of the urinary and/or gastrointestinal (GI) system. This X-ray is usually the initial step for diagnosing a urinary condition.
With this kind of X-ray, the radiologist may assess the urinary tract, kidneys, ureters, and bladder and will be able to identify if there are kidney or ureteral stones.
- Neck X-ray
Neck X-ray is recommended for patients having persistent pain, weakness, or numbness in the neck. It shows the vertebrae or spinal bones, and helps locate hairline bone fractures, dislocated joints, infection, or inflammation. In case of issues with the discs in the spine, an MRI can also be performed.
- Hand X-ray
A hand X-ray is recommended in case of pain in the hand or an injury around the hand area. It helps see any broken bones, joint abnormalities, bone tumors, or conditions like an infection, arthritis, or tendinitis.
- Joint X-ray
A joint X-ray is recommended to examine issues with the knees, shoulders, hips, ankles, or wrists. Patients suspected of arthritis, fractures, inflammation, and numerous other conditions like gout, osteoarthritis, or rheumatoid arthritis will usually be undergoing this test.
- Skull X-ray
For all kinds of head injury or skull-related conditions, a skull X-ray is conducted as it helps view the bones of the head structure, including facial bones and cranial bones. They help to identify conditions like tumors, sinus or ear infections, fractures, bone loss, or the skull’s soft tissue movement. Additional tests such as MRI with susceptibility-weighted imaging (SWI) may be performed in the case of traumatic brain injury following an accident.