What is an X-ray test?

An x-ray test is a type of imaging procedure that helps examine the internal organs and bones. It is a pain-free and noninvasive technique used in the diagnosis of different conditions or injuries in both children and adults. During this procedure, ionising radiation emitted by a machine is allowed to pass through the body. These radiations are captured on a small device where an image is produced. X-ray radiation passes easily through air spaces but is blocked by healthy bones. Thus, healthy bones appear white or grey in an x-ray image, whereas lungs appear black. The dose of the radiation used in x-ray examinations varies based on the area of the body to be examined. A lesser dose is used for a smaller area and higher dose for large areas.

  1. Why is X-Ray test performed?
  2. How do you prepare for an X-Ray test?
  3. How is an X-Ray test performed?
  4. What do X-ray test results indicate?

It is one of the very common imaging methods used in the diagnosis of several types of injuries and conditions. An X-ray test is recommended for the following:

An x-ray test is also used as a surgical tool, for example, an image taken during a joint surgery helps the doctor in determining if the implanted device is placed in the right position. In certain cases, x-ray tests involve the use of a harmless dye (iodinated contrast agent). This dye helps in obtaining a much more detailed image and observing structures such as blood vessels and bowel.

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No special preparation is needed for an x-ray test except for changing clothes and wearing a hospital gown. The individual may also be asked to remove jewellery, eyeglasses, dental fixtures, metal objects or any part of clothing that may interfere with the imaging process. Also, it is important to inform the doctor about certain conditions such as pregnancy. For pregnant women, the doctor may recommend some other imaging technique as radiation exposure can pose a risk of development defect in the foetus.

A radiographer performs an x-ray imaging procedure and guides the individual through various steps of the procedure. The following are the steps involved in an x-ray test:

  • The individual has to change clothes and wear a hospital gown.
  • Depending on the part of the body to be examined, the individual will be asked to lie, stand or sit in a particular position.
  • The parts that are not to be examined may be covered by a lead apron to avoid unnecessary exposure to radiation.
  • The individual will be asked to remain still, as moving may affect the quality of the image. He/she may also be asked to hold their breath for a few seconds while taking the image. This is to avoid the blurring of image due to breathing movements.

No risks are involved in this procedure except for radiation exposure. However, this risk is considered to be lower than the benefits of this test. An x-ray test is generally pain free, but it may cause some discomfort when an individual has to move the painful part for obtaining pictures from different angles. In case of imaging of the whole body or skeleton, it may take one hour or more.

Any variation from the normal structure in an X-ray image indicates an abnormality. Depending on the condition to be diagnosed, it could either be the presence of disease or injuries, such as fractures, bone tumours, osteomyelitis and degenerative conditions of bones.

Disclaimer: All results must be clinically correlated with the patient’s complaints to make a complete and accurate diagnosis. The above information is provided from a purely educational perspective and is in no way a substitute for medical advice from a qualified doctor.  


  1. Better health channel. Department of Health and Human Services [internet]. State government of Victoria; X-ray examinations
  2. US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [internet]; Medical X-ray Imaging
  3. University of Rochester Medical Center [Internet]. Rochester (NY): University of Rochester Medical Center; Chest X-Ray
  4. Link TM, Adams JE. Metabolic and endocrine skeletal disease. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, Gillard JH, Schaefer-Prokop CM, eds.Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology. 6th ed. New York, NY: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2015:chap 50.
  5. Mettler, FA. Skeletal system. In: Mettler FA, ed. Essentials of Radiology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 8.

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