Imaging 101: How Do X-Rays Work?

For many people, X-rays are synonymous with broken bones, and although X-rays are frequently used to determine fractures, there is much more that an X-ray can be used for. So, if your doctor is recommending you get one for anything other than a broken bone, don’t worry, he hasn’t lost his mind! But, how do x-rays work?

Despite being the oldest imaging tool, X-rays still hold a lot of mystery for those who aren’t familiar with imaging tests. But, as long as you’re not a medical professional, that’s perfectly normal. Nonetheless, at Rosetta Radiology, we like to keep our patients (and our readers) well informed.

Here is everything you need to know about X-rays!

What Is An X-ray?

An X-ray is a kind of imaging device that uses gamma rays to capture images of a person’s internal structures, such as bones, muscles, and organs. X-rays can be performed over a person’s entire body, or it can be used more specifically over certain body regions such as the head, chest, abdomen, or the extremities — it all depends on which part of the body there is an issue.

How Do X-Rays Work?

X-rays work by passing gamma rays through the body. These rays are absorbed in different amounts depending on the density of the structure they pass through. Dense structures like bones show up white, while organs, tissue, and fat show up gray.

To make X-ray images more detailed, sometimes the test is paired with contrast medium, such as iodine or barium, which are taken into the body. The contrast “brightens” internal structures so that abnormalities can stand out.

What Are X-Rays Used For?

There are many medical uses for X-rays, including being able to spot abnormalities and even monitor and detect diseases. Typically, X-ray exams tend to focus on a few specific regions: the bones and teeth, the chest, and the abdomen.

Aside from detecting bone fractures, X-rays are able to identify a variety of bone conditions, such as arthritis, osteoporosis and bone cancer. Similarly, X-rays work for examining teeth (which are also bones) and they can be used to detect dental decay, dental/bone infections, and teeth alignment.

Chest X-rays are often used to diagnose and monitor lung infections or conditions such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, and lung cancer. They can also capture the signs of a heart failure (enlarged hearts) and detect vein blockage. Mammograms are a popular chest X-ray performed on both men and women to look for breast cancer.

X-rays can also be used for your abdominal region. Digestive tract problems can be revealed anywhere in the digestive system with the aid of Barium, a contrast medium a patient needs to either drink or receive through an enema or injection before being scanned. Swallowed items can also be identified and located through X-rays.

Are X-Rays Dangerous?

A lot of people worry about X-ray radiation. The truth is, the amount of radiation you get from an X-ray is very small. For example, a chest X-ray gives out a radiation dose similar to the amount of radiation you’re naturally exposed to from the environment over 10 days.

Even still, when you have an X-ray, you wear a lead apron to protect certain parts of your body and the American Board of Radiology stresses against imaging tests unless there is a specific medical need, in which case it is better to undergo the test. Before an X-ray always make sure to follow your radiologist’s instructions and let them know if you are pregnant or may be pregnant as the radiation could cause damage to the fetus.

More Information

As you can see, medical X-rays don’t only come in handy when your child fractures their ankle playing soccer, but also when you get a cavity or do your annual mammogram. To learn more about X-rays, or to schedule one for yourself, contact us today or book an appointment.

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