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What is an X-ray Study?

An X-ray study is a fairly quick and painless diagnostic procedure that uses ionizing radiation to produce images of the internal structures of the body. It is commonly used to detect bone fractures. An X-ray machine puts out a small amount of ionizing radiation that passes through the body and is captured on a special device which creates the X-ray image. At Mercy Emergency ER we use advanced X-ray equipment producing high-quality X-rays while minimizing X-ray exposure.

How Does an X-ray Study 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.

Indications for X-ray Studies

Besides detecting bone fractures, x-rays can also be used to evaluate:

  • Abnormal spine curvature such as scoliosis
  • Chest and abdominal lesions
  • Developmental abnormalities
  • Bone tumors
  • Tooth decay
  • Dental abscesses or cyst
  • Breast cancer
  • Swallowing abnormalities

Contraindications for X-ray Studies

X-rays are usually not recommended for pregnant women unless necessary, as there is a minimal risk of side effects to the baby.

Preparing for an X-ray Study

You will be given specific instructions by your doctor depending on the body part being X-rayed and the type of test. In general, you should wear loose clothing as you may be required to uncover the area to be examined. For some X-ray studies, a hospital gown may be provided. In case you are undergoing an X-ray with contrast dye, you may be asked to avoid eating anything for at least 3 hours before the procedure. The contrast dye is a liquid that helps highlight certain internal anatomical structures. It may be administered as an injection or enema or swallowed prior to the X-ray depending on the body part to be examined.

X-ray Study Procedure

The X-Ray study procedure involves the following steps:

  • You will be asked to lie down on the X-ray table or sit/stand next to the X-ray machine.
  • The technician will position your limbs or body to obtain the appropriate view of the part to be X-rayed.
  • Pillows or other props may be used to obtain the correct position.
  • You will be asked not to move or hold your breath as even slight movement may result in blurry X-ray images.
  • Body parts that are not being X-rayed may be covered with a lead apron.
  • The technician will then step behind a window to take the X-ray.
  • You may be repositioned if multiple X-ray images are required. 
  • The time required for the procedure may take a few minutes or longer depending on the type of X-ray study.

After the X-ray Study

After the X-ray study, you can return to routine activities almost immediately. If you have been given a contrast medium, you should drink plenty of water or fluids to flush it out of your system.

Risks of X-rays 

The amount of radiation exposure with an X-ray study is very low and harmless. The benefits provided by the procedure far outweigh the risks that may occur from prolonged and repeated X-ray exposure, which include cell mutation and development of cancer.

Interpreting X-ray Study Results

The X-ray images can be viewed by the radiologists within a few minutes and are stored digitally on a computer. The reports are conveyed to the ER physician as soon as possible.