What is a Chest X-Ray?
A chest X-ray is a rapid, painless diagnostic imaging procedure that uses electromagnetic radiation to produce images of the heart, lungs, and other anatomical structures within your chest or thoracic cavity.
Uses of a Chest X-Ray
A chest X-ray may be ordered by your doctor to evaluate:
- Fractures of the Chest and Spine: Sternum, rib, and thoracic spine fractures can be assessed on chest X-rays.
- Lung Abnormalities: Chest X-rays can detect signs of cancer or infection of the lungs, emphysema, cystic fibrosis, and other types of lung diseases.
- Heart Abnormalities: Changes in the size and shape of the heart or fluid accumulation in the lungs which can be detected on the chest X-ray may be an indication of heart failure, abnormalities in the heart valves, or other heart problems.
- Vascular Disease: Chest X-rays can detect the build-up of calcium deposits in the blood vessels which may be a sign of coronary artery disease, aortic aneurysms, and other vascular malformations.
- Implanted Devices: Chest X-rays are usually taken after placement of a pacemaker, defibrillator, or catheter to ensure they are in the correct position.
- Postoperative Recovery: Chest X-rays may be ordered to look for postoperative changes after heart, lung, or esophagus surgery.
Contraindications for an X-ray Study
X-rays are usually not recommended for pregnant women unless necessary, as there is a minimal risk of side effects to the baby.
How does an X-Ray Work?
X-rays are electromagnetic beams of radiation that can penetrate through solid objects or tissues of the body. Their ability to penetrate through structures depends on their density. Structures of higher density such as bone or metal absorb the X-rays, not allowing them to pass through, and appear white on the X-ray images. On the other hand, X-rays pass easily through air spaces within the body, so breaks in the continuity of bone and lung spaces will appear black on the X-ray image. Fat and muscle appear as varying shades of gray.
Preparation for Chest X-Ray
- Inform your doctor regarding any health conditions, previous surgeries, the likelihood of pregnancy, and any allergies.
- You will be asked to undress from the waist up and wear a hospital gown.
- You can continue to take your regular medications unless otherwise specified.
Chest X-Ray Procedure
The procedure for chest X-ray involves the following basic steps:
- You will be positioned between the X-ray machine and the image recording plate.
- Generally, 2 views are taken, one from the back with your hands on your hips and chest against the image recording plate, and one from the side with your arms elevated and your side against the image recording plate.
- You will be asked to hold your breath and avoid movement to ensure high-quality images.
- The technologist will go behind a wall or into another room to activate the machine.
- The procedure will usually be completed within 10 to 15 minutes.
What happens after the Chest X-Ray?
You can return to your routine activities after the procedure. A radiologist or trained doctor will analyze the images and send the report to your doctor, who will share the results with you.
Risks of Chest X-Ray
There is a minimal risk of cancer from excessive or repeated exposure to radiation.
Benefits of Chest X-Ray
- Painless and non-invasive procedure
- Useful in emergency situations as it can detect internal injuries or abnormalities quickly