X-rays are the most commonly used diagnostic tool to look inside a person’s body safely. Xrays use a type of radiation called electromagnetic waves; these waves create images of the inside of a body. The pictures show the body parts in different shades of black and white because different tissues absorb different amounts of radiation.


A doctor will order an X-ray examination to create images of internal organs or bones to help them diagnose conditions or injuries. An X-ray is a special machine that puts out a small amount of ionizing radiation. This radiation safely passes through your body, and the resulting image is captured on a special device.

While X-rays show irregularities, they are not comprehensive in what they can display. Muscles, ligaments, and joint tissue do not show up very well on an X-ray scan. However, using an X-ray as a primary diagnostic tool is recommended for patients complaining about pain. The doctor will first quickly rule out a tumor or fracture.

If the X-ray is inconclusive, the doctor may order further tests involving a CT scan, endoscopy, or MRI, which all take longer than an X-ray does and are much more involved.

Health Tips & Info

Are X-rays safe?
The radiation used in Xrays, called ionizing radiation, may cause damage to the cells in your body. This damage, however, is usually very minor and does not cause any serious effects. Large amounts of ionizing radiation may cause the cells to become cancerous, but a very low dose x-ray, such as a chest x-ray, has a tiny risk.
How many X-rays can I have in a year?
While there’s no set number of how many X-rays are safe each year, the American College of Radiology recommends limiting lifetime diagnostic radiation exposure to the equivalent of about 10,000 chest X-rays but only 25 chest CT scans.
What is it like to have an X-ray?
When a patient arrives for an Xray the procedure usually follow the same pattern:

  • The X-ray technician will position you on the X-ray table and place the film holder or digital recording plate underneath the table in the area of the body that’s being examined. Sometimes, pillows or other devices will be used to help you stay in the right position.
  • A lead apron might be placed over certain areas of the body, like the pelvic area or breasts, to protect from radiation.
  • Radiologists will tell you to hold very still and perhaps hold your breath for a few seconds to reduce blurring in the image.
  • The radiologist will walk behind a wall or into the next room to activate the machine.
  • Two or three images from different angles will generally be taken.
  • The X-ray procedure is usually complete within five to 10 minutes. The only discomfort you may feel is the cold air in the room or holding the still position for an extended amount of time


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