X-rays are one the most versatile and widely available medical technologies today. X-ray technology is also used to create other more sophisticated imaging devices, such as mammograms and CT scanners. Here are the answers to some of your most frequently asked questions about x-rays.

How do x-rays work?

X-rays machines use small amounts electromagnetic radiation to produce an image of the structures in your body. “When high-energy x-rays pass through your body, your bones, muscles and other dense structures absorb these rays,” says Christopher Testa, MD, a radiologist with Adventist HealthCare Imaging. “This absorption helps create a white image of your bones and other internal body parts which can be used to detect a variety of medical conditions.”

Why would a physician recommend an x-ray?

Though X-rays are best known for helping doctors diagnose broken bones, they also help doctors discover other abnormalities. “X-rays can detect blocked blood vessels, bone cancer and tumors. Chest x-rays can even help doctors detect infectious diseases, such as pneumonia,” says Dr. Testa. “Also, if your child has swallowed a foreign object, x-rays can help determine the location of the object.”

What can I expect on the day of my exam?

When preparing for an x-ray exam, you will be asked to remove any metal objects you are wearing.  In some cases, you may be instructed to wear a lead apron to protect your body from any radiation or drink contrast, a liquid substance that helps highlight a specific area in your body during an x-ray scan. During the exam, you will be asked to sit or lay still while a technologist takes multiple images of the affected area. The exam is painless and usually takes about 10 minutes to complete. When it’s over, a radiologist will examine your images and explain the results to you or your doctor.

Are x-rays safe?

Complications from x-rays are rare. Children and unborn babies are most sensitive to the effects of x-ray radiation. If you are pregnant or have a child who needs an x-ray, let your doctor or technologist know before the scan. Overexposure to x-ray radiation may also slightly raise your lifetime risk of cancer. “In most cases, the benefit of getting an x-ray far outweighs the risk of not having one,” says Dr. Testa.

Sources: National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control, American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, Mayo Clinic, Food and Drug Administration

Adventist HealthCare Imaging offers quality imaging services such as mammography, MRI, ultrasound and SPECT/CT at several Montgomery County locations.