WHAT IS AN X-RAY?
Like visible light, an x-ray is a form of electromagnetic radiation. The x-ray machine sends individual x-ray particles—photons—that pass through the body. Then, a computer of special film records the images generated. Bones and parts of the body with dense structures will block most of the x-ray particles. Consequently, they will appear white on the images. Note that metal and contrast materials will also appear white on an x-ray image. Structures with air will be black. Muscle, fat, and fluid on the other hand will appear as shades of gray.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING AN X-RAY?
For x-ray examinations, the positioning of the patient and film depends on the area of interest and the type of study needing to be performed. Similar to conventional photography, motion blurs images on radiographs. As a result, patients may be asked to hold their breath or to not move during the brief scan.
WHAT SHOULD I DO TO PREPARE FOR AN X-RAY?
If is crucial for pregnant women or women who think they might be pregnant to inform their health care provider prior to the exam. Because metal and certain clothing may obscure the images, patients will be asked to remove all jewelry and wear hospital gowns during their x-ray examinations.
If taking scans for abdominal studies but had a barium contrast study or had taken medications containing bismuth in the last four days, the test may be postponed until the contrast is completely flushed away from your body.
What are the risks? Are there any after effects?
There is no evident discomfort from x-ray exposure other than staying skill in awkward positions for a brief period of time.
However, per radiograph, a small fraction of the x-rays passes through the body. The tissues in the body absorb the remaining photons. Then, the energy of the absorbed photons can ionize (break apart) compounds, causing cell damage. At most times, this cell damage will be soon repaired. At other times, it may remain permanent.
Again, as children and developing fetuses are sensitive to radiation exposure, women who are pregnant or suspecting pregnancy should inform their health care providers.