When Do I Need X-Rays?

When do I need X-Ray

X-rays can be an extremely useful medical tool. Helping diagnose everything from broken arms to malignant tumors, x-ray imagery allows your doctor to identify a variety of things going on inside your body.

What is an x-ray?

X-rays use electromagnetic waves – which is a type of radiation – in order to observe the inside structures of your body. These x-ray beams actually pass through your body and become absorbed, allowing for the creation of black and white images. While x-rays can help your doctor observe the distance between bones, they cannot show cartilage or other tendons.

Bones appear as white (on account of their high calcium content), fat and muscle tissues show up in different shades of gray, and the lungs mostly appear black, because air absorbs the least amount of radiation. This gives your doctor a clear and illustrative picture of the inside structures of your body.

Your doctor will typically order x-rays if there is a good chance that the results will change their mind about how to manage an injury or condition. X-rays are not necessarily needed when it comes to minor injuries.

When is an x-ray needed?

Having x-rays done is a relatively easy and completely painless procedure. They can be taken while you are standing or lying down. Typically you will wear a lead apron to protect certain parts of your body. That’s due to the fact that – as essential as x-ray technology is to your overall health – excessive radiation can cause lasting cell mutations in the body that may lead to cancer. Therefore your doctor will only order x-rays to be taken when absolutely necessary.

Here are some reasons your doctor may decide to order x-rays:

  • Injuries and fractures to bones

This is often the most common reason for having x-rays done. That broken wrist not only needs to be identified first, but, following medical care and treatment, x-rays will again be needed in order to verify that the healing process is complete. X-ray imaging can identify dislocated joints as well. Sprains and damage to ligaments will not always require radiation, however.

  • Detection of tooth decay

X-rays are a regular aspect of modern dental care. Dental x-rays allow your dentist to observe areas of tooth decay that would otherwise be difficult to detect during a regular oral exam. Dental x-rays also reveal bone loss and different changes that could indicate gum disease or other infections. As a safeguard, your dentist will likely order x-rays every two or three years, unless an underlying condition exists, in which case they may be taken more often.

  • Illnesses effecting the lungs

Chest x-rays are a useful tool when it comes to diagnosing conditions effecting the lungs, such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and tuberculosis. If you are having trouble breathing or feel pain in your chest, your doctor will likely take x-rays in order to confirm the severity of your condition.

  • Cancer detection and prevention

Many forms of cancer, including bone cancer, can be detected using x-ray technology. Early cancer detection and screening processes can help your doctor identify cancerous tumors in your bones before they spread to your lungs.

  • Signs of arthritis

While blood tests and normal doctor’s exams can usually detect signs of arthritis, osteoarthritis – a type of arthritis that effects the flexible tissues at the ends of bones – can only be diagnosed through x-ray technology. An x-ray exam can likewise show your doctor if any cartilage loss has occurred.

  • Placement of medical devices and implants

Post-surgery, your doctor will need to take x-rays in order to confirm the placement any implantable devices or objects. This includes pacemakers, defibrillators, metal screws and plates, catheters, and artificial hips.

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