What Is a Chest X-Ray?
An X-ray is an imaging test that
uses small amounts of radiation to produce pictures of the organs, tissues, and
bones of the body. When focused on the chest, it can help spot abnormalities or
diseases of the airways, blood vessels, bones, heart, and lungs. Chest X-rays
can also determine if you have fluid in your lungs, or fluid or air surrounding
Your doctor could order a chest
X-ray for a variety of reasons, including to assess injuries resulting from an
accident or to monitor the progression of a disease, such as cystic fibrosis. You
might also need a chest X-ray if you go to the emergency room with chest pain,
or if you’ve been involved in an accident that included force to your chest
A chest X-ray is an easy, quick,
and effective test that has been useful for decades to help doctors view some
of your most vital organs.
Do I Need a Chest X-Ray?
Your doctor may order a chest
X-ray if they suspect that your symptoms have a connection to problems in your
chest. Suspicious symptoms may include:
- chest pain
- shortness of
These symptoms could be the
result of the following conditions, which a chest X-ray can detect:
- broken ribs
- a collapsed
- emphysema (a
long-term, progressive lung condition that causes breathing difficulties)
- lung cancer
(a collection of air in the space between your lungs and your chest wall)
Another use for a chest X-ray is
to see the size and shape of your heart. Abnormalities in the size and shape of
your heart can indicate issues with heart function.
Doctors sometimes use chest
X-rays to monitor your progress after surgery to the chest area. Doctors can
check to see that any implanted materials are in the right place, and can make
sure you’re not experiencing any air leaks or fluid buildup.
Do I Prepare for a Chest X-Ray?
Chest X-rays require very little
preparation on the part of the patient.
You will need to remove any
jewelry, eyeglasses, body piercings, or other metal on your person. Tell your
doctor if you have a surgically implanted device, such as a heart valve or
pacemaker. Your doctor may opt for a chest X-ray if you have metal implants.
Other scans, such as MRIs, can be risky for people who have metal in their
Before the X-ray, you’ll undress
from the waist up and change into a hospital gown.
Is a Chest X-Ray Performed?
The X-ray occurs in a special
room with a movable X-ray camera attached to a large metal arm. You will stand
next to a “plate.” This plate may contain X-ray film or a special sensor that
records the images on a computer. You’ll wear a lead apron to cover your
genitals. This is because your sperm (men) and eggs (women) could be damaged from
The X-ray technician will tell
you how to stand and will record both front and side views of your chest. While
the images are taken, you’ll need to hold your breath so that your chest stays
completely still. If you move, the images might turn out blurry. As the
radiation passes through your body and onto the plate, denser materials, such
as bone and the muscles of your heart, will appear white.
After the images have been captured
— which should take 20 minutes or so — your part is complete. You can change
back into your clothes and go about your day.
Are the Complications Associated with a Chest X-Ray?
Doctors agree that exposure to
the small amount of radiation produced during an X-ray is well worth it because
of the diagnostic benefits the test provides.
However, doctors don’t recommend
X-rays if you are pregnant. This is because radiation can harm your unborn
baby. If you believe you are pregnant, make sure you tell your doctor.
Happens After a Chest X-Ray?
A lab usually develops the images
from a chest X-ray on large sheets of film. When viewed against a lit
background, your doctor can look for an array of problems, from tumors to
A radiologist also goes over the
images and gives your doctor their interpretation. Your doctor will discuss the
results of your X-ray with you at a follow-up appointment.