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Perhaps the most well-known radiology imaging technique, an X-ray exam is a quick, painless way to diagnose a variety of health conditions – particularly bone and muscle problems.

At Baystate Health, we specialize in reading X-rays. We use high-resolution, state-of-the-art equipment to provide accurate images. Many of our radiologists specialize in reading X-rays of specific body parts, such as the abdomen, brain, and neck.

We offer chest and bone X-rays at all of our imaging centers and hospitals, and can accommodate urgent needs. A physician referral is required.

How does an X-ray work?

During an X-ray, a machine emits a small amount of electromagnetic radiation, which then passes through your body to create a two-dimensional image. The X-ray machine records images onto a digital image recording plate or photographic file. These days, most X-rays are stored as digital files to make them easily accessible to your health care team.

Why you may need an X-ray

X-rays can be used to find and diagnose problems in the:

  • Heart
  • Joints
  • Legs
  • Lungs
  • Neck
  • Spine
  • Upper and lower gastrointestinal tract

X-rays help physicians find and diagnose:

  • Bone fractures
  • Blockages in the digestive system
  • Emphysema
  • Heart problems
  • Internal injuries
  • Inflammation
  • Lung cancer
  • Stomach ulcers

Benefits of X-ray exams

X-rays are a fast, easy, and painless way for your physician to capture quality images of your bones and muscles. They are especially helpful in emergency situations because they can be processed quickly. There are no side effects from diagnostic X-ray exams and no radiation will remain in your body after the exam.

Potential risk of X-ray exams

While there is a minimal risk of cancer from excessive exposure to radiation, you would have to undergo many X-rays to have a real risk. The benefits of an accurate diagnosis from a diagnostic X-ray far outweigh the minimal risk. The amount of radiation you receive from an X-ray is comparable to the amount an average person receives in six months of daily living.

Always inform your physician or technologist if you are or may be pregnant.

Limits of X-ray exams

While X-rays are a quick way to gain information about the muscles and bones, the two-dimensional, black and white images they produce may not provide rich detail compared to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT scans).

Bone X-rays may not capture partial rotator cuff tears or cartilage tears inside the knee joint, for example. In children, X-rays cannot capture kidney obstructions that block the flow of urine.

In these situations, your physician may recommend additional tests to make a complete diagnosis.

How to prepare for an X-ray exam

Your physician or nurse will give you specific instructions depending on which body part will be X-rayed. Let your doctor know if you:

  • Could be pregnant
  • Are taking any medications
  • Have any allergies
  • Have had a recent illness
  • Have any serious medical conditions

What to expect during an X-ray exam

You may be asked to remove clothing that covers the body part being X-rayed or to wear a medical gown so your radiologist can get a clear image. You will also be asked to remove any jewelry, eyeglasses, piercings, or other metal objects that can interfere with the exam.

The exam itself is brief and painless, and your radiologist or technologist will guide you through the whole procedure. Your technologist or radiologist will position you on the X-ray table, then place the X-ray digital recording plate or file holder under the body part being examined. You may be asked to wear a lead apron to protect you from excess radiation.

While the images are taken, you will need to remain still to prevent blurry images, and you may be re-positioned several times to get the right angles for the images.

After the exam, you may be asked to wait for a few minutes for your team to ensure the images are clear. The entire procedure should take about 20 minutes.

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