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What is an x-ray?
- An x-ray (radiograph) is a painless medical test that helps physicians diagnose and treat medical conditions. Radiography involves exposing a part of the body to a small dose of ionizing radiation to produce pictures of the inside of the body. X-rays are the oldest and most frequently used form of medical imaging.
- X-Rays belong to a group of waves called electromagnetic radiation (EMR). This group also contains light, radio waves, and microwaves. X-rays are in the very high-energy and very short wavelength part of the EMR spectrum. They are invisible, like radio waves, and are capable of penetrating or passing through the tissues of the body, making them useful for imaging.
- The process of using x-rays to image the body and diagnose disease is called diagnostic radiography. A radiograph is created when x-rays interact with the tissues in the body, as they are absorbed they produce the black and white image seen on the film.
What does an x-ray show?
- To determine whether a bone has been fractured or if a joint is dislocated.
- To ensure that a fracture has been properly aligned and stabilized for healing following treatment.
- To determine whether there is a build up of fluid in the joint or around a bone.
- To evaluate injury or damage from conditions such as infection, arthritis, abnormal bone growths or other bone diseases, such as osteoporosis.
- To assist in the detection and diagnosis of cancer.
- To locate foreign objects.
- To evaluate changes in bones.
How should I prepare for my x-ray?
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 jewellery, eye glasses and any metal objects or clothing that might interfere with the x-ray images.
If you are or think you may be pregnant:
We will ask all women of childbearing age to confirm they are not pregnant prior to examinations, especially before irradiating the pelvic and abdominal areas. Many imaging tests are not performed during pregnancy because radiation can be harmful to the foetus.
What happens during the x-ray?
The radiographer positions the patient on the x-ray table and places the digital recording plate under/near the area of the body being imaged. A lead apron may be placed over the patient's pelvic area to protect it from radiation.
The patient must hold very still and may be asked to keep from breathing for a few seconds while the x-ray picture is taken to reduce the possibility of a blurred image. The patient may be repositioned for another view and the process is repeated. At least two images (from different angles) will be taken and often three or more images are needed.
What will I experience during and afterwards?
An x-ray examination itself is a painless procedure. You may also find holding still in a particular position and lying on the hard examination table uncomfortable, especially if you are injured. The technologist will assist you in finding the most comfortable position possible that still ensures x-ray image quality.
What are the limitations of x-ray?
While x-ray images are among the clearest, most detailed views of bone, they provide little information about the adjacent soft tissues. An MRI may be more useful in identifying ligament tears and joint effusions in knee or shoulder injuries and in imaging the spine, because both the bones and the spinal cord can be evaluated. MRI can also detect a bone bruise when no crack is visible on x-ray images.
Who interprets the results and how do I get them?
A radiologist is a physician specifically trained to supervise and interpret radiology examinations. The radiologist will analyse the images and send a signed report to your primary care or referring physician, who will share the results with you.
- All X-Ray imaging will involve a patient receiving a dose of ionising radiation. The radiation is partly absorbed by the body, producing both the image and the dose received.
- The amount of radiation received depends on the type of imaging method and the region being imaged.
- There are strict UK and European regulations governing the way x-rays are used. These are rigidly enforced by radiographers and radiologists. It is the legal and professional responsibility of the referring doctor, radiologist and radiographer that the benefit achieved through diagnosis outweighs the risk caused by the use of radiation.
- The outpatient centres operating as part of London Bridge Hospital use the ALARA principle: the dose is kept As Low As Reasonably Achievable. Regular quality assurance on the equipment assists in keeping radiation doses to a minimum.