X-ray Imaging

In this Article

X-rays are a type of radiation that can pass through the body. Different types of tissues, such as bones or organs, absorb different levels of x-rays. These differences are used to make images of the inside of the body. Your child’s doctor can use an x-ray to quickly check for bone fractures and other problems.

What is X-ray Imaging?

An x-ray, or radiograph, is a quick and painless test that produces an image of the inside of your child’s body.

During the test, an x-ray tube directs a beam of x-rays into the body. X-rays are a type of radiation that can pass through the body. Different types of tissues, such as bones or organs, absorb different levels of x-rays. Special film or x-ray detectors use these differences to make images.

Dense materials, such as bone, let fewer x-rays pass through and appear white on the x-ray image. Other tissues, such muscles or organs, let more x-rays pass through and will appear black or gray in the x-ray image.

The most common way that x-rays are used is to check for broken bones. However, there are other uses for x-rays, such as:

  • Examining an area where your child might be feeling pain
  • Monitoring the progression of an already-diagnosed disease
  • Making sure that a prescribed treatment is working well
  • Using chest x-rays to help diagnose pneumonia (noo-MOH-nyuh).

In some cases, your child’s doctor may need to use a contrast material to improve image details of the x-ray. These materials are usually swallowed or injected. They are considered safe, and the body naturally absorbs and removes the materials.

What are the risks and/or side effects?

A small amount of radiation is used to perform an x-ray. A typical x-ray will give off the same amount of radiation that you would be naturally exposed to over a period of 10 days. Exposure to radiation has the potential to cause cancer, especially repeated exposure. However, the risks of radiation exposure from an x-ray are often very low compared to the benefits.

If your child has to ingest a contrast material before their x-ray, there may be some side effects, such as:

  • Itching
  • Nausea
  • Hives
  • Dizzy feeling
  • A strange or metal taste in your mouth

In very rare cases, the dye may cause a serious reaction, such as shock, low blood pressure, or cardiac arrest.

If you think your child is having a bad reaction to the contrast, contact your child’s doctor or get emergency care immediately.

What are the benefits?

Using an x-ray, your child’s doctor will be able to view an image that will help them see the inside of your child’s body without having to cut into it or perform surgery. Your child’s doctor can then use this image to diagnose certain conditions, like a broken bone or pneumonia, or monitor the progress of an existing condition.

How do I prepare?

X-rays are a standard medical procedure and usually will not require you or your child to do anything special before going in to get one.

It may be helpful to dress your child in comfortable, loose-fitting clothes. Your child might be asked to change into a gown for the test. They should not wear jewelry or metal during the x-ray.

If your child has any metal implants from other surgical procedures, make sure to let your child’s doctor know about them, as well as the x-ray technician (if it is someone other than your child’s doctor) as these implants can sometimes block x-rays from getting a clear image.

In some cases, the doctor may need to use a special contrast material to help improve the detail of the image. This material can be swallowed, injected, or given by enema. Talk to your child’s doctor to find the best option for your child.

How is it done or administered?

If your child needs an x-ray, they may be referred to a radiologist [ray-dee-OL-oh-jist]. A radiologist is a doctor who specializes in imaging tests.

X-rays are usually performed by an x-ray technician or technologist. They will take images until there are enough clear images for the doctor to review. They will also help position your child to get the best images possible. It is important for your child stay very still while these images are taken. This will help your child’s doctor get the clearest images possible.

The test is finished as soon as your radiologist is satisfied with the images that have been taken.

When will I know the results?

Your child’s doctor will review your child’s x-rays and any other information from the radiologist. However, the amount of time it takes to determine the results may vary. A broken bone may be easily diagnosed during the same visit. A more complex issue may require a follow-up appointment or additional testing.

What are follow-up requirements and options?

Follow-up requirements will depend on the condition being treated. Your child’s doctor will let you know of any follow-up requirements, such as appointments, tests, or medicines that may need to be needed.

Support and Resources

RadiologyInfo.org (Radiological Society of North America): https://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=bonerad#results

MedlinePlus: https://medlineplus.gov/xrays.html