X-rays consist of electromagnetic waves of energy that penetrate matter to a variable extent, depending on the density of the matter. The remaining radiation after penetration and absorption by the tissues produces various grades of black and white on very sensitive x-ray film.
Chest x-rays are performed as part of a routine screening physical exam and prior to most surgeries. Any patient with chest symptoms, such as cough, blood in the sputum, pain in the chest, injury to the chest, infection, or shortness of breath, will likely undergo a chest x-ray. Smokers should also have a chest x-ray.
Some healthcare professionals have recommended that persons who smoke should undergo a chest x-ray periodically to screen for lung cancers, but this approach has not been found cost-effective.
Individuals undergoing a chest x-ray will undress to the waist and put on an exam gown. The individual will be asked to remove all jewelry and metal objects that may interfere with the exam. A woman should inform the technologist if she is pregnant, as X-rays are avoided during pregnancy whenever possible.
The exam is usually done standing, but it can be performed sitting or lying down. The individual may be asked to hold his or her breath very briefly during the exam. Usually one or two x-rays are taken, a front view and a side view. The x-ray scans will be checked to see if the x-rays are adequate before the individual gets dressed and departs.
There is no special preparation for a chest x-ray.
Chest x-rays detect abnormalities of the lungs, heart, great blood vessels, chest wall, ribs, diaphragm and thoracic spine. The healthcare professional will discuss abnormal results with the individual.