What is an X-Ray, Know its Purpose, Risks, Benefits, Uses, Procedure, History

What is an X-Ray?

X-ray is the most common imaging test used for detecting and diagnosing medical conditions. X-rays have been in use by the doctors for many decades. X-ray helps in looking at the inside of the body without having to cut open the body or make an incision. In this way, x-ray helps in diagnosing, monitoring, and treating many medical conditions. X-ray carries very minor risks and the benefits of the x-rays outweigh its risks.

There are different types of X-rays used for different purposes. For example, barium enema is an X-ray which is done to look at your gastrointestinal tract and mammogram is a type of x-ray done to examine the breasts.

What is an X-Ray?

What is the Purpose of X-ray? Why is it done?

An X-ray is done for the following purposes:

  • To look at the area where the patient is experiencing discomfort or pain.
  • To monitor the progression of a disease that has been detected.
  • To assess how well a prescribed treatment is working for the patient.

In What Medical Conditions is X-ray Needed?

X-ray is required in the following medical conditions; fractures, enlarged heart, breast tumors, bone cancer, blocked blood vessels, digestive problems, medical conditions of the lungs, infections, arthritis, tooth decay and osteoporosis.

What are the Risks & Side Effects of X-Ray?

There is only a small amount of radiation used during x-rays to generate images of body. The degree of radiation to which a patient is exposed during an x-ray is safe for majority of the adults, however, it is not considered safe for a developing baby. If the patient is pregnant or believes that she is pregnant, then she should always inform the doctor before undergoing an X-ray.

If X-ray is being done to diagnose or manage a painful condition, such as a fracture, then patient will experience discomfort or pain during the test. For this reason the patient is prescribed pain medicines before the x-ray is taken.

If the patient has to ingest a contrast agent before the x-ray, then he/she can experience side effects from this which include: nausea, itching, hives, lightheadedness and a metallic taste in the mouth. Rarely, the contrast dye can cause a severe allergic reaction resembling an anaphylactic shock consisting of extreme hypotension or cardiac arrest.

Are There Any Special Steps Needed in Preparing For An X-Ray?

Majority of the times, no special steps are required to prepare for an x-ray. What you need to wear depends on the area which needs to be x-rayed. Patient is often told to wear loose and comfortable clothes. Patient may need to change into a hospital gown before going for the x-ray. Other than this, patient should remove any metallic items or jewelry from the body before the x-ray is taken. It is imperative to inform your doctor regarding any metal implants you might be having from previous surgeries, as these metal implants block X-rays from passing through your body and prevents generation of a clear picture.

Is Fasting Required Before an X-ray?

No, fasting is not always required. If the patient needs an X-ray to evaluate his/her gastrointestinal tract, then fasting for certain hours before the x-ray is needed. Patient also needs to restrict drinking certain types of liquids. Sometimes, patient is also given medications to clear out the bowels, so the gastrointestinal tract is viewed clearly.

Is Contrast Agent Given During An X-Ray?

Sometimes, patient needs to take contrast material before an x-ray. A contrast agent helps in giving clearer images by improving the quality of images. The contrast agent can consist of barium or iodine compounds. Depending on the cause for which the x-ray is taken, the contrast dye is given by different methods, such as it can be injected into your body, given as an enema before x-ray and given via liquid which you swallow.

Who Performs the X-Ray and What is the Procedure of X-Ray?

A radiologist or an X-ray technologist can perform an X-ray either in a diagnostic center or in radiology department of a hospital. After the patient has changed into a hospital gown, the radiologist or x-ray technician tells the patient how to position their body so as to generate clear images. The patient is told to sit, lie or stand in various positions during the x-ray. The x-ray images are taken whilst the patient stands in front of a specialized plate, which contains x-ray sensors or film. Sometimes, the patient is also asked sit or lie on a specialized plate and a large camera that is connected to a steel arm over the body is moved to capture the x-ray images. It is important that the patient stay absolutely still while the images are being taken. This helps in generating clear images. After the radiologist is satisfied with the images, then the x-ray is concluded.

What to Expect after an X-ray?

After the X-ray has been completed and the radiologist has collected the images, the patient can change back into regular clothes. Depending on the patient’s condition, he/she is advised to rest or go about their normal activities while waiting for x-ray results. The results can be available the same day or can be collected later. The doctor reviews the X-rays and the reports submitted by the radiologist and determine the next step of treatment. Additional tests may be ordered for a more accurate diagnosis, such as additional blood tests, imaging scans etc.

What is the History of X-Ray?

Wilhelm Röntgen, who was a German physicist, is usually credited for discovering X-rays in 1895, as he was the first person to methodically study them; however, he is not the first person to have observed the effects of x-rays. Wilhelm Röntgen also coined the term “X-rays” which mean an unknown quantity. Previously, for many decades,

X-rays were referred to as “Röntgen rays” and the related X-ray radiograms as, “Röntgenograms.”

What are the Other Uses of X-Rays?

  • X-ray crystallography uses x-rays to study the molecular and atomic structure of the crystal.
  • X-ray astronomy is an observational branch of astronomy, which deals with the study of emission of X-ray from celestial objects.
  • X-ray fluorescence is a technique where there is generation of X-rays within a specimen and observed. The emitted energy of the X-ray is used to identify the sample’s composition.
  • X-ray microscopic analysis utilizes electromagnetic radiation in the soft X-ray band to generate images of very small objects.
  • X-rays are used in industrial radiography for checking industrial parts.
  • X-rays are also used for quality control and authentication of packaged items.
  • X-ray equipment is used in Industrial CT to generate three-dimensional representations of components, both internally as well as externally.
  • X-ray spectromicroscopy uses x-rays to assess the reactions of pigments present in paintings.
  • The scanners in airport security luggage use X-rays for checking the interior of luggage for security threats before they are loaded on the aircraft.
  • X-rays are also used in border control truck scanners for inspecting the interior of trucks.
  • Roentgen stereophotogrammetry uses x-rays to detect movement of bones which is based on the implantation of markers.
  • Radiation implosion uses high energy X-rays which are produced from a fission explosion to compress the nuclear fuel.
  • X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy is a chemical analysis technique commonly used in surface science and relies on the photoelectric effect.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:January 23, 2018

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