What is an x-ray?
X-ray is the oldest and most frequently used form of medical imaging. For nearly a century, diagnostic images have been created by passing small, highly controlled amounts of radiation through the human body, capturing the resulting shadows and reflections on a photographic plate. X-ray imaging is the fastest and easiest way for a physician to view and assess broken bones, cracked skulls and injured backbones.
X-ray is useful in detecting more advanced forms of cancer in bones. Very early cancer findings require other methods. Radiologists have developed alternative imaging methods that do not rely on radiation, such as ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). However, because x-ray was the first imaging modality, many people (and medical imaging professionals) continue to use the term “radiology” to include all types of imaging. Strictly speaking, though, radiology refers to the use of x-rays.
What are some common uses of the procedure?
Probably the most common use of x-ray is to assist the physician in identifying and treating fractures. X-ray images of the skull, spine, joints, and extremities are performed every minute of every day in hospital emergency rooms, sports medicine centers, orthopedic clinics, and physician offices. Images of the injury can show even very fine hairline fractures or chips, while images produced after treatment ensure that a fracture has been properly aligned and stabilized for healing. Bone x-rays are an essential tool in orthopedic surgery, such as spinal repair, joint replacements, or fracture reductions.
X-ray images can be used to diagnose and monitor the progression of degenerative diseases such as arthritis. They also play an important role in the detection and diagnosis of cancer, although usually CT (Cat Scan) or MRI is better at defining the extent and the nature of a suspected cancer. On regular x-rays severe osteoporosis is visible, but DEXA scans detect early loss of bone density.
What to Expect
Once you arrive, you may be asked to change into a gown before your examination. You will also be asked to remove jewelry, eyeglasses and any metal objects that could obscure the images, since those show up on x-rays and may block the bones. Women should always inform their doctor or the technologist if there is any possibility that they are pregnant.
Most x-rays require no special preparation. You may be asked to remove some or all of your clothes and to wear a gown during the exam. You may also be asked to remove jewelry, removable dental appliances, eye glasses and any metal objects or clothing that might interfere with the x-ray images.