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Mr Ben O'Sullivan
Prof Stacy Goergen
Date last modified: May 01, 2009
Radiography is the imaging of body structures using X-rays. X-rays are a form of radiation similar to visible light, radiowaves and microwaves. X-radiation is special because it has a very high energy level that allows the X-ray beam to penetrate through the body and create an image or picture.
The image is created due to the X-ray beam being absorbed differently by different structures or parts in the body. A dense structure like bone absorbs a high percentage of the X-ray beam (which appears light grey on the image), whilst low density structures like soft tissues absorb a small percentage (which appears dark grey on the image). The body has many different structures of varying densities and this difference creates a picture or image (see Figure 1).
For a plain X-ray there are no specific preparation instructions but there are some important things you need to do:
The following are the steps involved in a typical plain radiography/X-ray:
A radiographer (a trained X-ray technologist) will call your name and escort you through to an X-ray examination room.
They will explain the procedure and prepare you accordingly (as above).
Depending on the part of your body being examined the following will vary:
It is important that you stay completely still when the radiographer instructs you to, as any movement may create a blurred image.
After the X-rays have been performed, the radiographer has to process each X-ray and check the results for quality. This can sometimes take several minutes.
Sometimes there will be a need for additional images to be taken to obtain more information to help the radiologist make a diagnosis. There is no need for concern if this happens as it is quite common. In most cases the extra X-rays are performed to obtain a better view of your anatomy or body structure, not because there is a problem.
The radiographer will instruct you when the procedure is finished. You may wish to ask them when the results will be available.
A radiologist (specialist X-ray doctor) then carefully assesses the images, makes a diagnosis and produces a written report on the findings. This report is sent to the referring doctor, specialist or allied health professional who referred you for the test.
At any stage you are welcome to ask questions about the process if you have any concerns.
The entire process is straightforward and you will not feel anything strange or feel any different during the examination.
X-ray examinations are fast. Most procedures are quicker then 15 minutes (depending on the part of the body being X-rayed).
X-rays are invisible and you will not feel anything while the X-ray is being taken or afterwards.
It usually takes less than 15 minutes for an entire X-ray procedure. This obviously depends on the number of parts of your body being examined and your mobility, i.e. your ability to move about, and your general health. In most cases, the area being examined needs to be viewed from different directions to obtain enough information to make the diagnosis and this may require you to move into different positions.
For example, a simple chest X-ray on an able and willing patient could take less than 1 minute. However, a distressed patient needing a full spine, pelvis, both shoulders and both legs X-rayed could take 45 minutes.
People with disabilities and children will also take longer, particularly if they find it difficult to keep still or to cooperate with or understand instructions given by the radiographer (medical imaging technologist) who performs the X-ray examination.
Generally, the benefit of the X-ray procedure is far more important than the small estimated risk. At the radiation dose levels that are used in diagnostic radiography there is little or no evidence of health effects (see Radiation risk of medical imaging for adults and children).
There are two major risks to health that occur as a result of exposure to medical ionising radiation (which is the kind of radiation in X-rays). These are:
Medical research has as yet been unable to establish conclusively that there are significant effects for patients exposed to ionising radiation at the doses used in diagnostic imaging. In addition, the dose of radiation that you receive from plain X-rays is very much lower than for other types of radiology procedures such as computed tomography (CT) scanning or angiography (X-ray examination of the blood vessels).
To put this all into perspective, a patient would need to have approximately 38 chest X-rays to receive an amount of radiation similar to that of normal background radiation that everyone receives for one year from the environment (ARPANSA 2008). This is very encouraging and supports the use of the small doses involved in diagnostic radiography.
The benefits of plain radiography/X-ray are:
A radiographer or medical imaging technologist (MIT) is a health professional who performs diagnostic radiography.
A radiologist is a specialist medical doctor who reviews and interprets the images and provides a written report of the test to your referring doctor, specialist or allied health worker.
Plain radiography/X-rays are done in the diagnostic imaging department of most hospitals (although this depends on the size of hospital as some small hospitals do not perform X-rays). They can also be done at a private radiology practice.
The time that it takes your doctor to receive a written report on the test or procedure you have had will vary, depending on:
Please feel free to ask the private practice, clinic, or hospital where you are having your test or procedure when your doctor is likely to have the written report.
It is important that you discuss the results with the doctor who referred you, either in person or on the telephone, so that they can explain what the results mean for you.
X-rays are safe when performed in a controlled environment like an X-ray department. X-ray equipment is checked regularly to ensure that it is functioning properly and not delivering excess radiation to patients or staff. People operating X-ray equipment are required by law to be licensed to do so, to ensure they are properly qualified to operate the radiation equipment.
If you require any more information or have queries about your X-ray procedure then please contact your local doctor or the hospital department/private radiology practice where you have been referred for the X-ray examination.
The following websites are helpful sources of information: