An X-ray is a safe and painless test that uses a small amount of radiation to make an image of bones, organs, and other parts of the body.
The X-ray image is black and white. Dense body parts, such as bones, block the passage of the X-ray beam through the body. These look white on the X-ray image. Softer body tissues, such as the skin and muscles, allow the X-ray beams to pass through them. They look darker on the image.
X-rays are commonly done in doctors’ offices, radiology departments, imaging centers, and dentists’ offices. If needed (for instance, if a child is in the hospital) a portable X-ray machine can be brought to the bedside. Portable X-rays are sometimes used in emergency rooms, intensive care units (ICUs), and operating rooms.
Help your child prepare for an X-ray by explaining the test in simple terms. Tell your child that it’s important to hold still to get the best images. The X-ray technician might ask older kids to hold their breath and remain still for 2-3 seconds while each X-ray is taken. Any image that is blurry might need to be redone.
What Happens Before an X-Ray?
Most X-rays don't require any special preparation. Depending on what’s being X-rayed, your child may be asked to remove clothing and jewelry and change into a hospital gown because buttons, zippers, clasps, or jewelry might affect the image.
Your child will go into a special room that probably will have a table and a large X-ray machine hanging from the ceiling. Parents are sometimes able to come in with their child. If you stay in the room while the X-ray is being done, you'll be asked to wear a lead apron to protect certain parts of your body. Your child's reproductive organs will also be protected with a lead shield.
What Happens During an X-Ray?
After getting your child into the right position, the technician steps into the next room to take the images. Your child won't feel anything as the X-ray is taken. The X-ray room may feel cool due to the air conditioning used to maintain the equipment.
Positions required for the X-ray may feel uncomfortable, but they need to be held for only a few seconds. If your child has an injury and can't stay in the right position, the technician might be able to find one that's more comfortable. Babies might cry in the X-ray room, but this won't affect the procedure.
After the X-rays are taken, you and your child will be asked to wait a few minutes while the images are processed. If they are blurred or unclear, some of the views may need to be taken again.
What Is Contrast Solution?
Sometimes, for X-rays of soft tissue areas, patients might get a contrast solution. It highlights certain areas of the body so doctors can see them in more detail. Contrast solution might be used for X-rays involving the heart, kidneys and bladder, and digestive system. The solution might be a liquid that’s swallowed or given as an enema (into the bottom), or a solution that’s injected into a vein.
The contrast solution is generally safe, but allergic reactions can happen. Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of its use.
Find out if your child needs to fast (not eat or drink) or to stop taking medicines before getting contrast solution.
When Are Test Results Ready?
X-ray images are saved digitally on computers and are viewed by a radiologist who's specially trained in reading and understanding them. The images can be ready for the radiologist quickly, especially in an emergency. The radiologist will send a report to your doctor, who will discuss the results with you and explain what they mean. In most cases, results can't be given directly to the patient or family at the time of the test.
Are There Any Risks From X-Rays?
In general, X-rays are very safe. Although exposure to radiation poses some risk to the body, the amount used in most X-rays is small and not considered dangerous. It's important to know that radiologists use the minimum amount of radiation required to get the best results.
Developing babies are more sensitive to radiation and are at more risk for harm, so if your daughter is pregnant, be sure to tell her doctor and the X-ray technician.
What if I Have Questions?
If you have questions about the X-ray or what the results mean, speak with your doctor. You can also talk to the X-ray technician before the test.