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Definition

A chest x-ray is an image of the heart and lungs and other structures in the chest. A small dose of radiation is used to create the image. It is one of the most common medical tests done.

Reasons for Test

Chest x-rays are done to look for abnormalities of your heart, lungs, bones, or blood vessels in your chest. Your doctor may order a chest x-ray if you have certain symptoms, such as:

  • Bad or persistent cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Chest pain
  • Chest injury
  • Fever
  • Abnormality of the rib cage
  • Evidence of cancer
Possible Complications

Chest x-rays are done using a very small dose of radiation. If you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant, tell your doctor or the x-ray technician. X-rays are generally avoided during pregnancy, if possible.

What to Expect
Prior to Test

You will be asked to remove all jewelry from the waist up. You will also put on a hospital gown. A lead apron may be placed over your abdomen and pelvis. This is done to minimize the risks of radiation.

Description of Test

Pictures are usually taken from both a side view and a front view. An x-ray technician will position you according to the type of x-ray machine used. In most cases, you will stand against the x-ray plate with your hands up or to the side. You will be asked to take a deep breath and hold it while the x-ray is being taken. You will also be asked to stay as still as possible when the film is taken. You may notice that the film cartridge feels cool to your skin.

After Test

You will be able to leave after the test is done.

How Long Will It Take?

About 10-15 minutes.

Will It Hurt?

No.

Results

A specialist will look at your x-ray and send a report to your doctor. Results are generally available in 1-2 days.

Call Your Doctor

Call your doctor if you have any concerns after the test.

In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.

RESOURCES:

American Heart Association
http://www.heart.org

Radiology Info.org
http://www.radiologyinfo.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Health Canada
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

Radiology for Patients
http://www.radiology-info.org/

References:

Chest x-rays: sorting out problems in your chest. Mayo Clinic website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/chest-x-rays/MY00297. Updated May 21, 2011. Accessed on March 28, 2013.

X-ray (Radiography), Chest. Radiological Society of North America. Radiology Info website. Available at: http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=chestrad&bhcp=1. Updated March 15, 2013. Accessed on March 28, 2013.



Last reviewed February 2014 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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