How is an X-ray done?

The X-ray beam is absorbed differently by different parts of the body — this pattern shows up on the X-ray images.
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X-rays are a type of radiation, similar to light and microwaves. Unlike light, however, X-rays can penetrate the body to create a 2-dimensional image (picture).

As X-rays pass through the body, the X-ray beam is absorbed differently by different parts of the body. This pattern shows up on the images.

For example, the parts of your body that are made up of dense material — such as bones — absorb more of the X-ray beam and show up as white or light grey areas on an X-ray image. Softer tissues, such as your heart and lungs, absorb less and show up as darker areas.

X-rays are usually performed by radiographers, who are health professionals trained in the use of imaging technology, such as X-ray and CT scans.

What to expect during the X-ray procedure

The radiographer may ask you a few questions about yourself, then ask you to lie down, or sit or stand against a flat surface, depending on the part of your body which is being scanned. They may ask you to wear a special gown and/or place a protective lead shield over parts of the body not being scanned.

During the investigation the radiographer may also ask you to change position so that they can take pictures from different angles. For example, for a chest X-ray, they may need to take pictures from the back and the side of your body.

The part of your body being examined will only be exposed to X-rays for a fraction of a second and, in most cases, the entire procedure will be over within 15 minutes. It is important that you remain still while the X-ray is being taken to prevent the images being blurred, otherwise the X-ray may have to be repeated.

Remember to take your request form or referral letter with you to your appointment, otherwise the X-ray will not be able to be performed. Jewellery and watches will need to be removed.

Contrast X-rays

A contrast X-ray involves swallowing or injecting a special dye or contrast medium, before the X-ray is taken. This is to improve the detail of the images or to make it possible to see internal body structures, such as the bowel. Many of these dyes contain iodine.

If you require an X-ray with contrast media, you may feel a warm, flushed sensation during and just after the dye is injected, and also experience a brief sensation of wanting to urinate. You may occasionally feel nauseous (like you want to vomit) for a short time. Side effects to contrast media can occur, but these are rare.

Results and reports

Radiologists are specialist doctors who are trained to interpret medical images, such as X-rays and CT scans. A radiologist will assess your X-ray images and produce a written report on the findings. They may discuss these with you on the day of your X-ray and will send a report to the health care professional who requested the X-ray.

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