X rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation, as is visible light, but with some different characteristics.
The important difference is that X rays can penetrate or pass through the human body and produce shadow-like images of structures such as bones, some of the organs, and signs of disease and injury.
When the body undergoes X-rays, different parts of the body allow varying amounts of the X-ray beams to pass through. The soft tissues in the body (such as blood, skin, fat, and muscle) allow most of the X-ray to pass through and appear dark gray on the film or digital media.
A bone or a tumor, which is more dense than soft tissue, allows few of the X-rays to pass through and appears white on the X-ray. When a break in a bone has occurred, the X-ray beam passes through the broken area and appears as a dark line in the white bone.
This beam travels through the air, comes into contact with our body tissues, and produces an image on a metal film. Soft tissue, such as skin and organs, cannot absorb the high-energy rays, and the beam passes through them. Dense materials inside our bodies, like bones, absorb the radiation.
How are X-rays performed?
X-rays can be performed on an outpatient basis, or as part of inpatient care.
Although each facility may have specific protocols in place, generally, an X-ray procedure follows this process:
The patient will be asked to remove any clothing or jewelry which might interfere with the exposure of the body area to be examined. The patient will be given a gown to wear if clothing must be removed.
The patient is positioned on an X-ray table that carefully positions the part of the body that is to be X-rayed--between the X-ray machine and a cassette containing the X-ray film or specialized image plate. Some examinations may be performed with the patient in a sitting or standing position.
Body parts not being imaged may be covered with a lead apron (shield) to avoid exposure to the X-rays.
The X-ray beam will be aimed at the area to be imaged.
The patient must be very still or the image will be blurred.
The technologist will step behind a protective window and the image is taken.
Depending on the body part under study, various X-rays may be taken at different angles, such as the front and side view during a chest X-ray.