An X-ray is a test that uses a small amount of electromagnetic radiation. X-ray beams are emitted by a machine as individual "particles" (photons). These particles pass through the body and are detected by a special film (or xray plate) located on the opposite side of the body. It is a very simple and inexpensive way to see a 2-dimensional picture of the body.

A Radiology Technologist is a trained health care provider that performs x-ray tests. A Radiologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the interpretation of x-rays tests and diagnostic procedures such as ultrasounds, CAT scans and MRI scans. Although critical care physicians review all xrays and scans when they are done, all of these tests are also "read" or interpreted by a radiologist.

VIrtually any part of the body can be x-rayed. Tissue that has very little density will appear black (for example lungs that are filled with air). Metals and dense tissue appear white (for example bone). Although an X-ray it does not provide the detail that a CAT scan or MRI produces, it can be performed at the bedside. Images are immediately produced on the bedside computer.

X-rays are very good at identifying the location of invasive tubes (such as central lines, endotracheal tubes or chest tubes). They are also very good for picking up common complications in the chest (such as pneumothorax or hemothorax) or for identifying fractures.

If more detailed pictures are needed, a CAT or MRI may be ordered.



Image 1: Patient having an X-ray taken in the critical care unit. This is a portable machine.

Chest Xray

Image 2: An example of a chest X-ray. Lungs filled with air appear black while ribs appear white.






Last Reviewed: October 23, 2014

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Last Updated October 23, 2014 | © 2007, LHSC, London Ontario Canada