Patients Guide to X-Rays

What is an X-Ray?

An x-ray is a very common medical imaging test that is used to examine different parts of the body. It uses electromagnetic radiation to take pictures of structures inside of your body, such as your bones, blood vessels and tissues.

The way it works is a small amount of radiation is absorbed into the structures of the body to varying degrees depending on how dense they are. For example, since the lungs are not very dense, they appear largely black on an x-ray. Bone, which is very dense, appears light since it does not allow much radiation to penetrate. After the x-ray passes through your body, the film or sensor in the machine creates an image.

What to Expect During an X-Ray

An x-ray is painless and often quick. It can be performed at a hospital, doctor’s office and an outpatient radiology center. iRadiologyCare Inc. can help you locate a radiology center near you. 

Before the x-ray is taken, the technician will explain how you need to be positioned. For instance, you may be required to stand, lie or sit on the x-ray table during the x-ray. In some cases, the technician may ask you to move to another position to obtain a picture from another angle. If you are unable to reposition yourself, the x-ray technician will be able to assist you.

After you are positioned properly, the tech will position the x-ray camera over or in front of your body. In some instances, the technician may place a film plate behind the body part being x-rayed. The tech may step out of the room while he is taking the picture.

In some cases, your doctor may order an x-ray with an iodine contrast, which helps your doctor view certain body structures better. If your doctor ordered contrast, before the x-ray, you’ll be given the contrast through a pill, edema or a pill.

How Long Does an X-Ray Take?

An x-ray usually only takes a few minutes. Most of the time is spent positioning you correctly. Once you are positioned properly, it only takes a few seconds to take the picture. In many cases, the technician will take more than one x-ray so different angles can be captured.

Why is an X-Ray Done?

An x-ray is done so your doctor can view internal structures of your body, which will assist him or her in making a diagnosis. For instance, an x-ray can help your doctor view an area where you have pain and monitor a condition, such as arthritis and scoliosis. An x-ray can also show a collection of fluid in parts of the body, such as the lungs.

It is especially helpful to diagnose conditions related to the bones, such as fractures and dislocations. It is less costly than other types of medical imaging scans, so in some instances, it may be the first radiology test your doctor orders.

Preparations Required by the Patient

In many cases, there is no special procedure required by a patient before having an x-ray. Depending on what part of your body is being x-rayed, you may be asked to remove your watch or jewelry. If you are having an x-ray of your intestines, you may be asked to fast for a certain amount of time or use a laxative to clear out your bowels.


Is an x-ray safe? An x-ray involves being exposed to a small amount of radiation. But the level is considered very safe for adults. In most instances, you are only exposed to a low dose of radiation for a fraction of a second.

Can I have an x-ray if I am pregnant? A developing fetus is at a higher risk of the harmful effects of radiation. If you are pregnant or might be pregnant, let your doctor or technician know before the x-ray. Depending on your situation and whether the x-ray is needed in an emergency situation, your doctor will decide if the benefits of an x-ray outweigh the risks.

Is an x-ray painful? An x-ray is not painful. The electromagnetic radiation that passes through your body cannot be felt.

Will my doctor get the results right away? The amount of time it takes for your doctor to notify you about your x-ray results can vary. In some instances, your doctor may view the x-ray immediately and let you know the results right away. In other cases, a radiologist may first view the x-ray and report the results to your doctor.  

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