An X-ray is a quick and painless diagnostic imaging procedure that is carried out by trained specialists called radiographers. It is used to help diagnose and monitor health conditions.
What is an X-ray?
An X-ray scan is a type of diagnostic imaging procedure that doctors use to help diagnose and monitor health conditions.
An X-ray machine works by projecting a beam of X-rays through a specific part of your body. A detector picks up the X-ray beams as they pass through the body and converts them into a visible image for your radiologist to read and interpret.
Your body absorbs X-ray beams at different rates, which is what helps to create the image. For example, denser parts of the body – like bones – show up as white on the image, because it is harder for the X-ray beams to pass through them.
X-rays are safe and have minimal side effects. No radiation stays in your body after the examination.
You should let us know if you are pregnant, or may be pregnant, as X-rays are not usually recommended if you are pregnant unless it’s an emergency.
On the day of your scan, you should wear loose, comfortable clothing without metal parts like zips. However, depending on the body part being scanned, you may be asked to change into a hospital gown. You will also need to remove jewellery, hearing aids, and piercings.
You don’t usually need to stop eating and drinking before an X-ray unless a contrast agent is going to be used during your procedure. In that case, your radiographer or doctor will give you instructions in advance.
In the X-ray room, you will be positioned either standing up or lying down for the X-ray. Your radiographer will help guide you into the correct position using a light from the X-ray machine. During the X-ray, you will need to stay as still as possible and listen to your radiographer’s instructions.
Your radiographer will operate the X-ray machine from behind a glass panel, but will be able to see and hear you at all times. During the X-ray, you will hear a whirring noise. Once the X-ray is finished, your radiographer will ask you to relax while they review the images. If the images need to be repeated, or if more images are needed, you will re-do the process.
You can go home immediately after your X-ray. The results will be sent to your consultant within 48 hours and they will discuss these with you at your next appointment.
There are limits to what an X-ray scan can show – for example, an X-ray is not the best choice for visualising organs that are made up of soft tissue, such as the liver.
If you are pregnant, you may be recommended an alternative procedure unless there is a clear clinical need for an X-ray scan.
Alternative imaging procedures may include:
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