An X-ray is a type of electromagnetic radiation that can penetrate through different materials and produce images of the structures inside the body, especially bones. X-rays have a wavelength ranging from 10 picometers to 10 nanometers, and an energy ranging from 145 eV to 124 keV. This article explores the science behind X-rays, their uses in different medical fields, safety measures, advancements in technology, and potential risks associated with their use.
How is an X-ray performed?
A technician performs an X-ray by guiding the patient on how to position their body for the best image. The patient may need to remove any metal objects or clothing that may interfere with the X-ray. Sometimes, the patient may receive a contrast medium to enhance the visibility of certain organs or tissues.
The X-ray machine emits a beam of X-rays that passes through the body and hits a detector on the other side. The detector converts the X-rays into an electrical signal that a computer processes and displays on a screen or film. The image shows different shades of grey depending on how much X-rays different tissues absorb. Dense materials, such as bone and metal, appear white, while soft tissues, such as fat and muscle, appear darker.
What are the uses and benefits of an X-ray?
Before undergoing the test, one should consider the risks and limitations associated with an X-ray.
- Bone fractures, infections, arthritis, osteoporosis, tumours and deformities
- Lung diseases, such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, bronchitis and lung cancer
- Heart problems, such as cardiomegaly, pericarditis and heart failure
- Breast cancer, using a special technique called mammography
- Dental problems, such as cavities, abscesses and impacted teeth
- Digestive disorders, such as Crohn’s disease, ulcers and hernia
- Kidney stones and bladder stones
- Foreign objects in the body
An X-ray can also guide certain procedures, such as inserting a catheter or a stent or performing a biopsy.
An X-ray has many benefits over other imaging tests, such as:
- It is widely available and affordable
- Fast and easy to perform
- Does not require any special preparation or recovery time
- It does not use any radiation that stays in the body
- Can provide clear and detailed images of bones and some organs
What are the risks and limitations of an X-ray?
An X-ray has some risks and limitations that should be considered before undergoing the test, such as:
- Exposes the patient to a small amount of ionizing radiation that may increase the risk of cancer in the long term, especially for children and pregnant women
- Cause allergic reactions or side effects from the contrast medium in some people, such as itching, nausea, dizziness or hives
- Not show soft tissues or organs that have similar density or overlap with each other
- May not detect small or early changes in some conditions
- It may not suit people who have metal implants or devices in their body
Therefore, an X-ray should only be done when necessary and when the benefits outweigh the risks. The patient should inform their doctor about their medical history, allergies and pregnancy status before having an X-ray. The patient should also follow the instructions given by the technician during the test and report any symptoms or problems after the test.
How to interpret an X-ray result?
A radiologist or a specialist interprets an X-ray result by identifying any abnormalities or changes in the image. The condition being investigated may make the result normal or abnormal. A normal result means that the area examined by the X-ray has no significant problems. An abnormal result means that there are signs of disease or injury in the area examined by the X-ray.
The interpretation of an X-ray result may depend on several factors, such as:
- The quality and clarity of the image
- The angle and position of the body part being examined
- The comparison with previous or other imaging tests
- The clinical symptoms and history of the patient
- The expertise and experience of the interpreter