An x-ray is a test that allows healthcare providers to look at structures under the skin such as your bones and lungs. Radiation passes through your body and is absorbed differently on a metal plate or piece of film depending on the density of the organ or structure. Your bones and teeth contain calcium and are most dense so they appear white on the x-ray film or digital picture. Your lungs, on the other hand, mostly contain air so they appear almost black. Tissues such as your heart and other organs will be a shade of grey in between.
What Are X-rays Used For?
X-rays are used by physicians and other healthcare providers to sneak a peak inside your body. They may be ordered to evaluate a bone for fracture, your lungs for pneumonia, your abdomen for abnormal gas patterns, or your teeth for deterioration. X-rays are good for evaluating dense objects such as bones and teeth but are of little utility when it comes to imaging of the softer tissues of the body. This is why your provider may order a CT scan or MRI to help arrive at a diagnosis.
Are X-rays Harmful?
The amount of radiation required to perform an x-ray is fairly small and will not typically pose a long term hazard. Radiation may be harmful in pregancy, so it is strongly advised that if the possibility of pregnancy exists, that you inform the radiology staff so that a pregnancy test can be performed or your abdomen shielded with lead for the test. They will commonly prompt female patients of child-bearing years for this information.
For more information on X-Rays and other radiology services, see the following websites:
Medline Plus overview of X-ray
eMedicine Review on Understanding X-rays
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