X-rays use a small dose of radiation to create pictures of the inside of the body.
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Reasons for Test
X-rays can be taken of any part of the body. They are best for looking at teeth and injuries to bones. They can also be used to:
- Find an infection, such as pneumonia
- Look for signs of arthritis
- Diagnose heart and large blood vessel problems
- Look for fluid in the lungs
- Look for problems in the belly
A special dye called contrast may also be used. It makes it easier to see:
- The stomach and intestines, gallbladder, or liver
- Small blood vessel disease
- Urinary tract or reproductive system problems
X-rays do not cause short-term health complications. But radiation doses may build up in the body over time. The more x-rays you have, the more radiation there will be. This can raise the risk of some cancers or thyroid problems. The risk is higher in children and women who could get or are pregnant.
Lead safety shields are used during x-rays. They help lower the amount of radiation to the body.
What to Expect
Prior to Test
The care team will meet with you to talk about:
- Any allergies you may have
- Whether you may be pregnant
Description of Test
You will be asked to remove any jewelry. You may be given a special dye called contrast. It may be a drink or given through IV.
A lead shield may be placed on other parts of the body. This will help to lower exposure to radiation.
The x-ray device will be placed over one area of the body. You will be asked to remain still while the x-ray is taken. The device will send x-rays through your body. The x-rays will be captured on the other side of the body by a computer or on film.
You will be able to leave after the test is done.
How Long Will It Take?
A few minutes
Will It Hurt?
Most people do not have any problems after this test. You will be able to go back to normal activities.
The x-ray will be sent to a doctor who specializes in reading them. Your doctor will share the results with you.
Call Your Doctor
Call your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
NIH Clinical Center
Radiology Info—Radiological Society of North America
Canadian Association of Radiologists
Canadian Radiation Protection Association
Decision rules for x-ray use in knee injuries. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/evaluation/decision-rules-for-x-ray-use-in-knee-injuries. Accessed September 14, 2020.
Reducing radiation from medical x-rays. US Food & Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm095505.htm. Accessed September 14, 2020.
X-ray (radiography). Radiological Society of North America Radiology Info website. Available at: https://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/submenu.cfm?pg=xray. Accessed September 14, 2020.
X-rays. Mouth Healthy—American Dental Association website. Available at: http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/x/x-rays. Accessed September 14, 2020.
Last reviewed March 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Shawna Grubb, RN Last Updated: 3/23/2021