X-rays are waves of electromagnetic radiation that are used to create images of organs and other structures inside the body. X-rays have a very short wavelength. As they penetrate the body, they are absorbed in different amounts by different body tissues. For example, bones are dense and absorb X-rays very well, but soft tissues (skin, fat, muscle) allow more X-rays to pass through. The result is an X-ray shadow on a film or fluorescent screen, where images of bones appear white, while shadows of soft tissues appear as various shades of gray.
X-rays are used for many purposes, including determining if a bone is broken, seeing whether an internal organ is infected and looking for cancer. X-rays can affect a developing fetus, so if you are a woman and there is a chance that you might be pregnant, tell your doctor before you have an X-ray.
You likely will be asked to remove your clothing over the part of your body being X-rayed. Then you will be given a gown to wear if needed. For certain X-ray procedures, you also will be given a flexible lead apron or other type of protective drape to shield portions of your body from unnecessary X-ray exposure. You will be asked to either stand on the floor or lie/sit on a table in an X-ray room, and a technologist will position your body in a way that gives the best X-ray view. The technologist will position the X-ray machine near your body, so that the machine’s X-ray tube (where the X-rays come out) is pointing at the correct body area. After going behind a protective panel, the technologist will press a button to take the picture. For certain X-rays you may be asked to hold your breath.
Your X-rays will be read by a Molecular Imaging radiologist, and a report with the result will be sent or faxed to your doctor. For the official X-ray report, call your doctor’s office between 24 and 48 hours after the exam.