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Chest x-ray

Definition

A chest x-ray is an x-ray of the chest, lungs, heart, large arteries, ribs, and diaphragm.

Alternative Names

Chest radiography; Serial chest x-ray; X-ray - chest

How the Test is Performed

You stand in front of the x-ray machine. You will be told to hold your breath when the x-ray is taken.

Two images are usually taken. You will first need to stand facing the machine, and then sideways.

How to Prepare for the Test

Tell the health care provider if you are pregnant. Chest x-rays are generally not done during the first 6 months of pregnancy.

How the Test will Feel

There is no discomfort. The film plate may feel cold.

Why the Test is Performed

Your doctor may order a chest x-ray if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • A persistent cough
  • Chest pain from a chest injury (with a possible rib fracture or lung complication) or from heart problems
  • Coughing up blood
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever

It may also be done if you have signs of tuberculosis, lung cancer, or other chest or lung diseases.

A serial chest x-ray is one that is repeated. It may be done to monitor changes found on a past chest x-ray.

What Abnormal Results Mean

Abnormal results may be due to many things, including:

In the lungs:

In the heart:

  • Problems with the size or shape of the heart
  • Problems with the position and shape of the large arteries

In the bones:

Risks

There is low radiation exposure. X-rays are monitored and regulated to provide the minimum amount of radiation exposure needed to produce the image. Most experts feel that the benefits outweigh the risks. Pregnant women and children are more sensitive to the risks of x-rays.

References

Gotway MB, Elicker BM. Radiographic techniques. In: Mason RJ, Broaddus CV, Martin TR, et al., eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2010:chap 19.

Stark P. Imaging in pulmonary disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 84.


Review Date: 8/30/2014
Reviewed By: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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