What is it

X-rays (Radiography) uses a type of radiation that passes through the body to produce images of different body structures.


What it is used for

X-rays are routinely used to diagnose many different conditions including fractures and dislocations in the context of trauma, calcification in tendons, arthritis, joint alignments, inflammation and infection. They may also be used to guide surgeons during certain surgical procedures and operations.

What to expect

Depending on what body part needs imaging, you will normally either sit, stand or lie on a flat surface during an X-ray. X-rays are painless and quick depending on what body parts need imaging. They are usually performed by a radiographer (a specialist technician trained in X-ray). You will be asked to keep still so the image is clear, otherwise the slightest of movement can cause blurring of the image. Usually X-rays are taken from different angles to allow the best possible chance for the radiologist (specialist doctor trained in imaging) to make a diagnosis.

Before and after

You don’t need to stop eating and drinking before an X-ray for musculoskeletal applications. Sometimes you may need to wear a gown as clothing e.g. zips may interfere with the images taken. For similar reasons, you may be asked to remove any jewellery, watches, chains, rings etc. if they interfere with the images needed. After all your images are taken, you are free to go and the results are sent to your referring doctor once the radiologist has completed the report.

How it works

The high energy from ionising radiation in an X-ray is absorbed in differing amounts within the tissues of our body. Images produced are often different shades of grey and black because different tissues absorb different amounts of radiation. Dense tissues like bones absorb x-rays the most, so bones can look light grey or white. Fat and other soft tissues are less dense and therefore absorb less energy, and appear in different shades of grey. Air absorbs the least, so lungs or gas appears black.

Is it safe

X-rays expose you to a small amount of radiation and it is important to justify the benefits of it to help your treatment. Usually the doses used in diagnostic radiography are very low and relatively safe. There is a very small risk of cancer developing years after exposure to X-ray. X-rays are not recommended during pregnancy except in an emergency because of the risk to you and your unborn child. To put things into perspective, a patient would need to have approximately 35 Chest X-rays to have the equivalent dose of background radiation that everyone is exposed to from the environment for one year.

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