What is a chest X-ray?
A chest X-ray is a test that creates an image of your heart, lungs and bones. Another name for a chest X-ray is chest radiograph.
What are X-rays?
X-rays use focused beams of radiation. These radiation beams create pictures of the inside of your body. X-ray images look like the negative images of black-and-white photographs.
When should I get a chest X-ray?
Chest X-rays help healthcare providers diagnose problems that cause symptoms in your heart or lungs. Some of these symptoms include:
Your healthcare provider may also recommend a chest X-ray to diagnose or monitor certain health conditions, including:
- Congestive heart failure.
- Emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- Lung cancer.
- Ribcage injuries.
Who performs a chest X-ray?
A radiology technologist performs chest X-rays. These technologists have specific training in X-ray testing.
How does a chest X-ray work?
Your body’s tissues vary in thickness. When radiation passes through your body, each structure in your body allows a different amount of radiation to pass through.
For example, your bones are very thick and don’t allow much radiation to pass through. Bones look white on an X-ray image. Your lungs, however, allow more radiation through. Your lungs look gray on an X-ray image.
Healthcare providers look at the colors and shading on an X-ray to diagnose and treat health conditions.
How do I prepare for a chest X-ray?
Chest X-rays require little to no preparation. When you get ready for the appointment, wear loose, comfortable clothing that does not contain metal (zippers, snaps, bra closures) and leave jewelry at home.
If you have body piercings, ask your X-ray center for specific instructions. Body jewelry can interfere with clear images. You may need to remove it or replace it with an acrylic retainer.
What can I expect during a chest X-ray?
You may change into a medical gown at your doctor’s office. The X-ray technologist will also ask you to remove all metal, such as eyeglasses, jewelry or hairpins.
Typically, your chest X-ray consists of two parts:
- You stand with your chest against the metal plate of the X-ray machine and your hands on your hips. This position produces an image of the front of your chest.
- You stand with your side against the metal plate of the X-ray machine and your arms in the air. This position creates an image of the side of your chest.
During the chest X-ray, you need to remain very still and hold your breath. Any movement, even breathing in and out, can blur the X-ray image.
Chest X-rays usually take a few minutes to complete.
What can I expect after a chest X-ray?
After the X-ray, your radiation technologist may ask you to wait a few minutes while they look at the images. If any of the images are blurry, the technologist may have to retake the X-rays.
The X-ray images are sent to a radiologist who reviews them for normal and abnormal findings. Your healthcare provider will then review the images and radiologist's report so they can discuss your X-ray results with you.
What are the risks of a chest X-ray?
X-rays use a very small amount of radiation. The risks are minimal for adults. Lower radiation X-rays can be used in smaller children to minimize the risk in that population.
Is a chest X-ray safe if I am pregnant?
Always tell your healthcare provider if there is a possibility that you are pregnant. Radiation exposure can cause damage to a developing baby. In general, the amount of radiation used for simple chest x-rays is so small that it's considered safe during pregnancy, but your healthcare provider will help make the decision to do the x-ray based on the urgency of your symptoms.
Results and Follow-Up
When should I know the results of my chest X-ray?
In non-emergency cases, you will usually know your X-ray results within one to two days. In an emergency, you will usually know your results in a few minutes or hours.
When should I call my healthcare provider?
Call your healthcare provider if you experience:
- Chest injury, such as a suspected broken rib.
- Chest pain that doesn’t go away.
- Chronic coughing.
- Difficulty breathing.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A chest X-ray is a test that looks at your heart, lungs and bones. Chest X-rays use a small dose of radiation to create a black-and-white image. Healthcare providers can look at this image to diagnose and treat broken bones, heart conditions and lung problems. Chest X-rays are quick, noninvasive procedures done in a healthcare provider’s office or the hospital. In non-emergency situations, you will know your chest X-ray results in one to two days.
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