What is an X-ray of the pelvis?
An X-ray is a common imaging test that has been used for decades to help
doctors view the inside of the body without having to open it up using surgery.
X-ray imaging went public in 1896 when Wilhelm Rontgen, who discovered X-ray
imaging, took an image of the hand of anatomist Albert von Kolliker. In the
hundred years or so that followed, X-ray technology has become a key element in
the identification, diagnosis, and treatment of many types of medical
Today, different types of X-rays are available for specific purposes. An
X-ray of the pelvis focuses specifically on the area between your hips that
holds many of your reproductive and digestive organs. Your pelvis is made up of
three bones, the ilium, ischium, and pubis, and it also forms your hip joint.
Like all X-rays, this test uses a small amount of radiation, so it’s
generally not recommended for pregnant women or small children unless the risks
of not taking it are greater than taking it.
Why is an X-ray of the pelvis done?
Your doctor may order a pelvic X-ray for numerous reasons. Often, an X-ray
is taken after a traumatic event, such as a car accident or a fall.
A pelvic X-ray can help your doctor detect various conditions, such as:
- arthritis that affects your hip
- inflammation where your sacrum joins the ilium, which
is called sacroiliitis
- pelvic fractures
- hip dislocations
- stiffness of the spine or sacroiliac joint, which is called
Risks of getting an X-ray of the pelvis
X-rays use small amounts of radiation. The level of exposure is considered
safe for adults but not for developing fetuses. If you’re pregnant or believe
you might be pregnant, tell your doctor before the procedure. They may suggest
alternative testing methods that don’t use radiation, such as an MRI scan.
If you have an X-ray because of a traumatic event that causes pain and
possibly a broken pelvis, you may experience additional pain during the X-ray.
The test requires you to adjust your body so that clear images can be taken,
and may cause you discomfort. If you’re worried, ask your doctor for pain medication
before your X-ray.
For some X-rays, your doctor will inject you with a contrast dye before the
procedure to improve the images. The dye, usually iodine, can cause some side
- a metallic taste in your mouth
In rare cases, the dye can cause a severe reaction, such as:
- anaphylactic shock
- very low blood pressure
- cardiac arrest
How to prepare for an X-ray of the pelvis
According to the Radiological Society
of North America, X-rays are common procedures and involve little
Depending on the area to be X-rayed, you may want to wear loose, comfortable
clothing that you can easily move around in. You may also be asked to change
into a hospital gown for the test.
You’ll receive instructions to remove any jewelry and other metallic items
from your body before you get the X-ray. Be sure to tell your doctor if you
have any metal implants from prior surgeries because these can block X-rays
from passing through your body.
If your test requires contrast dye, your doctor or nurse will give it to you
as an injection, an enema, or a pill to swallow before the test.
If your doctor is using the X-ray to examine your intestines, they may ask
you to fast for a certain amount of time beforehand or to clear out your bowels
before you have the X-ray.
How an X-ray of the pelvis is performed
X-rays are performed in a hospital’s radiology department or in a clinic
that specializes in diagnostic procedures. Once you’re fully prepared, an X-ray
technician will explain how to position yourself to get the best images. Your
technician will likely ask you to lie, sit, or stand in several positions
during the test.
Some images may be taken while you stand in front of a specialized plate
that contains X-ray film or sensors. In some cases, the technician will move a
large camera connected to a steel arm over your body. This can capture X-ray
images of your body using film or sensors held in the table.
While the images are being taken, you’ll need to hold your breath and remain
still to get the clearest possible images. When your radiologist is satisfied
with the images taken, the X-ray is finished. After the test, you can change
back into your regular clothes and go about your normal activities right away.
Following up after an X-ray of the pelvis
Your radiologist will go over the images on a computer and then send the
findings to your doctor. Results from your X-ray may be available the same day.
Your doctor will view the X-rays and the radiologist’s report and determine
how their recommendation for how to proceed. They may order additional imaging
scans, blood tests, or other diagnostic tests for a more complete and accurate
diagnosis and to come up with a treatment plan.
Taking X-rays is a common, relatively safe way for your doctor to look for
issues inside of your body. Depending on the condition, an X-ray may help your
doctor diagnose your condition right away, or it may be a preliminary step
toward more tests and a complete diagnosis.