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An X-ray is aÂ quick and painless procedure commonly used to produce images of the inside of the body.
It's a very effectiveÂ way ofÂ looking at the bones and can be used to help detect a range of conditions.
X-rays are usually carried outÂ in hospital X-ray departments by trained specialists called radiographers, although they can also be done by other healthcare professionals, such as dentists.
X-rays are a type of radiationÂ that can pass throughÂ the body. They can't be seen by the naked eye and you can't feel them.
AsÂ they pass throughÂ the body, the energy from X-raysÂ is absorbed at different rates by different parts of the body.Â A detector on the other side of the body picks up the X-rays after they've passed through and turns them into an image.
DenseÂ parts of your body that X-rays find it more difficult to pass through, such as bone, show up as clear white areas onÂ the image. Softer parts that X-rays can pass through more easily, such as your heart and lungs, show up as darker areas.
X-rays can be used to examine most areas of the body. They're mainly used to look at the bones and joints, although they're sometimes used to detect problems affecting soft tissue, such as internal organs.
Problems that may be detected during an X-ray include:
X-rays can also be used to guide doctors or surgeons during certain procedures. For example,Â during a coronary angioplastyÂ â€“Â a procedure to widen narrowed arteriesÂ near the heartÂ â€“Â X-rays can be used to help guide a catheterÂ (a long, thin, flexible tube) along one of your arteries.
You don't usually need to do anything special to prepare for an X-ray. You can eat and drink as normal beforehand and can continue taking your usual medications.
However, you may need to stop taking certain medications and avoid eating and drinking for a few hours if you're having an X-ray that uses a contrast agent (seeÂ contrast X-rays below).
For all X-rays, you should let the hospital know if you're pregnant. X-raysÂ aren't usually recommended for pregnant women unless it's an emergency (for more information,Â see Can I have an X-ray if I'm pregnant?).
It's a good idea to wear loose comfortable clothes, as you may be able to wear these during the X-ray. Try to avoid wearing jewellery and clothes containing metal (such as zips), as these will need to be removed.
DuringÂ an X-ray, you'll usually be asked to lie on a table or stand against a flat surfaceÂ soÂ that the part of your body being examinedÂ can be positioned in the right place.
The X-ray machine, which looks like a tube containing a large light bulb, will be carefully aimed at the part of the body being examined by the radiographer. They willÂ operate the machine from behind a screen or from the next room.
The X-ray will last for a fraction of a second.Â You won't feel anything while it's carried out.
While the X-ray is being taken, you'll need to keep still so the image producedÂ isn't blurred. More than one X-ray may be taken from different angles toÂ provide as muchÂ information as possible
TheÂ procedure will usually only take a few minutes.
In some cases, aÂ substance called a contrast agent may be given before an X-ray is carried out. This can help show soft tissues more clearly on the X-ray.
Types of X-rays involving a contrast agent include:
These types of X-rays may need special preparation beforehand and will usually take longer to carry out.Â Your appointment letter will mention anything you need to do to prepare.
You won't experience any after effects from a standard X-ray and will be able to go home shortly afterwards. You canÂ return toÂ your normal activities straight away.
You may have some temporary side effects from the contrast agent if one was used during your X-ray.
For example, barium can turn your poo a whitish colour for a few days and an injection given to relax your stomach beforeÂ the X-rayÂ may cause your eyesight to be blurry for a few hours. Some peopleÂ develop a rash or feel sick after having an iodine injection.
The X-rayÂ images will often need to be examined by a doctor called a radiologist before you're told the results. They may discuss their findings with you on the same day, or they may send a report to your GP or the doctor who requested the X-ray, who can discuss the results with you a few days later.
People are often concerned about being exposed to radiation during an X-ray. However,Â the part of your body being examined will only be exposed to a low level of radiationÂ for a fraction of a second.
Generally, the amount of radiation you're exposed to during an X-ray is the equivalent to between a fewÂ days and a few years of exposure to natural radiation from the environment.
Being exposed to X-rays does carry a risk ofÂ causing cancer many years or decades later,Â but this risk is thought to be veryÂ small.
For example,Â an X-ray of your chest, limbs or teeth is equivalentÂ toÂ a few days' worth of background radiation, and has less than a 1 in 1,000,000 chance of causing cancer. For more information,Â see GOV.UK: patient dose information.
The benefits and risks of having an X-ray will be weighed up before it's recommended. Talk to your doctor or radiographer about the potential risks beforehand, if you have any concerns.
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