A chest X-ray is a picture of the chest that shows your heart, lungs, airway, blood vessels, and lymph nodes. A chest X-ray also shows the bones of your spine and chest, including your breastbone, your ribs, your collarbone, and the upper part of your spine. A chest X-ray is the most common imaging test or X-ray used to find problems inside the chest.
A chest X-ray can help find some problems with the organs and structures inside the chest. Usually two pictures are taken, one from the back of the chest and another from the side. In an emergency when only one X-ray picture is taken, a front view is usually done. Doctors may not always get the information they need from a chest X-ray to find the cause of a problem. If the results from a chest X-ray are not normal or do not give enough information about the chest problem, more specific X-rays or other tests may be done, such as a computed tomography (CT) scan, an ultrasound, an echocardiogram, or an MRI scan.
Why It Is Done
A chest X-ray is done to:
How To Prepare
Tell your doctor if you are or might be pregnant. A chest X-ray usually is not done during pregnancy because the radiation could harm the unborn baby (fetus). But the chance of harm to the fetus is very small. If you need a chest X-ray, you will wear a lead apron to help protect your baby.
Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding the need for the test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results mean. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).
How It Is Done
A chest X-ray is taken by a radiology technologist. The pictures are usually read by a radiologist, who writes the report. Other types of doctors, such as a family medicine doctor, internist, or surgeon, also may review chest X-rays.
You will need to take off jewelry that might be in the way of the X-ray picture. You may need to take off all or most of your clothes above the waist (you may be allowed to keep on your underwear if it does not get in the way of the test). You will be given a gown to wear during the test.
Two X-ray views of the chest are usually taken. One view is taken from the back; the other view is taken from the side of the body. But other views may be needed, depending on what your doctor is looking for. In an emergency, only one picture may be taken, usually from the front.
You usually stand with your front against an X-ray plate for the pictures. If you need to sit or lie down, someone will help you get into the correct position.
You will need to hold very still during the X-ray to prevent blurring of the picture. You may be asked to hold your breath for a few seconds while the X-ray picture is taken.
Most hospitals and some clinics have portable X-ray machines. If a chest X-ray is done with a portable X-ray machine at your bedside in a hospital, an X-ray technologist and nurse will help you move into the correct position. Usually only one picture from the front is taken.
How It Feels
You will not feel pain during a chest X-ray. The X-ray plate may feel hard, and the room may be cool. If you have pain from your chest problem, you may feel some discomfort if you need to hold a certain position, breathe deep, or hold your breath while the X-ray is done.
There is always a slight chance of damage to cells or tissue from radiation, including the low levels of radiation used for this test. But the chance of damage from the X-rays is usually very low compared with the benefits of the test.
A chest X-ray is a picture of the chest to see your heart, lungs, airway, blood vessels, and lymph nodes. A chest X-ray also shows the bones of your chest, including your breastbone, your ribs, your collarbone, and the upper part of your spine.
In an emergency, the results of a chest X-ray can be available within a few minutes for review by your doctor. If it is not an emergency, results are usually ready in 1 or 2 days.
What Affects the Test
Reasons why the test results may not be helpful include:
A picture taken with a portable machine may not be as clear as those made by a stationary machine.
What To Think About
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