Imaging Test To See Inside The Body

medical tests for women


X-Ray Images


What Is An X-Ray?
What Are X-Rays Used For?
How Do I Prepare For An X-Ray?
What Is The Procedure?
What Are The Risks?

Left image: Throat X-ray of a man who accidentally swallowed a scissors he was using to clean his teeth. The scissors was surgically removed and miraculously resulted in little damage to his throat.

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What Is An X-Ray?

An X-ray is a test which produces images of inside the body, in particular the bones of the body. It is quick and painless to perform. An X-ray machine sends x-ray beams (a type of electromagnetic radiation) through the body. The beams are absorbed differently depending on the density of the material they come into contact with. Dense material like bones and metal show up as white on an X-ray and air in the lungs show up as black. Muscle and fat appear as various shades of gray. The images produced are recorded on a computer or film. Some X-ray tests use a contrast material such as barium or iodine to help improve the quality of the images.

What Are X-Rays Used For?

Bones And Teeth

Bone fractures: Broken bones (fractures) show up clearly on an X-ray.
Teeth: Infections in teeth, bone loss, cavities and growths show up clearly on dental radiography. Cavities and infections change the bone density so the area of tooth affected will be lighter on film.
Arthritis: An X-ray of the joints can reveal signs of arthritis (although an MRI scan is more accurate in the early stages of arthritis). X-rays taken over a number of years can reveal if your arthritis medications are working.
Osteoporosis: The fastest and safest method for testing for osteoporosis is by dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA). This special X-ray machine, considered the gold standard for testing for osteoporosis, measures the total bone content of the hips, spine and forearm.
Cancer: X-rays can reveal cancerous bone tumors.


Lung infections: Lung cancer, pneumonia and tuberculosis (TB) show up on X-rays.
Heart failure: One of the signs of congestive heart failure is an enlarged heart. This clearly shows up on X-ray.
Breast cancer: A mammogram is a special type of X-ray machine used to examine the breasts.
Heart disease: X-ray machines are used in conjunction with some heart disease tests including coronary angiography to locate blocked blood vessels.


Digestive problems: An X-ray of the digestive tract, used in conjunction with a contrast material, can help reveal problems of the digestive system.
Swallowed materials: If a child accidentally swallows an item like a coin or a key, an X-ray will help locate it. Strangely enough, adults seem to end up swallowing some strange things too! (see image above of man who accidentally swallowed a scissors).

How Do I Prepare For An X-Ray?

Different types of X-rays have different preparation requirements. Your nurse or doctor will advise you beforehand. Generally the following applies:

1. Before your test tell your doctor if you are pregnant or have an IUD device inserted.
2. Remove all jewelry, any metal objects and glasses because they can interfere with the X-ray.
3. You will need to remove clothes from whatever part of the body is being examined, you may be given a hospital gown.
4. If a contrast dye or material is being used in conjunction with the test, you may have to swallow something, receive it as an injection or enema.

What Is The Procedure?

An X-ray is done in the radiology department of a hospital, although smaller tests (teeth or dexa scan) are done in a health care provider's office. How you are positioned, lying down or sitting depends on what part of the body is being examined. If you are lying down a technologist may use sandbags or pillows to help hold you in the proper position. The X-ray machine will pass over your body, emitting tiny bursts of radiation. These pass through your body and are recorded by the machine. You won't feel anything. You will need to hold very still or the images will blur.

The Results

You may receive your results straight away, or a radiologist will send the results to your doctor who will then discuss the results with you.

What Are The Risks?

Some people worry that the radiation from an X-ray machine will cause cancer. In reality, the amount of radiation you are exposed to is minimal and the risk of cancer is extremely low. However, if you are pregnant be sure to tell your doctor. Although the risk to an unborn baby is low, he may prefer to use other imaging tools like ultrasound scan or MRI.

Common Types Of X-Rays

Abdominal X-ray: Examines the tummy area including the spleen and intestines. If it is done to look at the bladder and kidneys, it is referred to as KUB (kidneys, ureters, bladder) X-ray.
Chest X-ray: Examines the ribcage, diaphragm, lungs, heart and large blood vessels.
Joint X-ray: Reveals arthritis, bone tumors, fractures and degenerative bone diseases like osteoarthritis.
Hand X-ray: Checks for tumors, fractures and degenerative conditions of the hand like osteoarthritis. In children it can determine the bone age of a child to determine if nutritional or metabolic disorders are interfering with normal growth.
Barium X-ray: A special X-ray of the colon and rectum. A liquid containing barium sulfate is inserted into the rectum. It acts as a contrast material, highlighting specific areas on the colon, providing clearer images. Eventually the liquid passes out of the body in your stool.
Lumbosacral spine X-ray: Takes images of the bones in the lower spine and helps to diagnose injuries.
Neck X-ray: Examines the neck for signs of bone spurs, disk problems, fractures, dislocations and osteoporosis.
Pelvis X-ray: Used to help diagnose hip arthritis, pelvic fractures, tumors and inflammation (sacroiliitis).
Skull X-ray: To check for fractures, tumors, causes of hearing loss and sinusitis.
X-ray of the skeleton: May be done to check for fractures in the body after an accident, or to test for cancer that has spread.

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For more information, see the following:

Vaccinations for women: Which vaccines are recommended.
The human body: Diagrams and functions of the body.

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