Chest X-rays are often ordered for patients with pulmonary issues. Here, the Mayo Clinic explains reasons and risks for this test, as well as how to prepare.

Although we normally assume X-rays are used to look at bones, healthcare providers often order chest X-rays to look at the heart, lungs, blood vessels, and airways, in addition to the ribcage and spine. They can be ordered to diagnose a disease, as well as track how well a treatment is working. In this article, the Mayo Clinic outlines the basics of what you should know before getting a chest X-ray.*

Basics of Chest X-Rays
  • Your lungs are the most prominent organ on a chest X-ray.
    • Clinicians can see if there is extra fluid or space around or inside the lungs. They may also see the lungs’ condition, such as whether they are infiltrated (which can signify infection) or look collapsed.
    • The heart is the next most visible object on a chest X-ray. The heart’s size can determine a number of symptoms. If there is fluid around your heart, it can also be seen. Large blood vessels such as the aorta and pulmonary vessels are also visible. Abnormalities that can be seen include calcium deposits and fractures.
  • Radiation exposure from X-rays is low—even lower than normal exposure from environmental sources. These procedures are painless and noninvasive. Nevertheless, if you are trying to become or are pregnant, you can wear protective shields over your abdomen. Make sure to remove any jewelry from the waist up in order to provide a clear image.
Seeing Through You—The Basics of Chest X-Rays

Be prepared to undress completely from the waist up and to wear an exam gown. During the procedure, there will be a metal plate on one side of you and the X-ray machine on the other side. You may move into different positions to obtain various images. It is likely you will need to raise your hands over your head to move your arms out of the image. The technician may ask you to hold your breath for a clearer image.

The result will be a black and white image of organs, bones, and vessels in your chest. Black areas on the image, such as your lungs, block very little radiation so they appear dark. White areas, such as bones, block most radiation so appear lighter. Once analyzed, the image should be discussed formally between you and your healthcare provider.

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*Mayo Clinic. Chest X-rays.