A chest x-ray is an image of the heart and lungs and other structures in the chest. A small dose of radiation is used to create the image. It is one of the most common medical tests done.
Reasons for Test
Chest x-rays are done to look for abnormalities of the heart, lungs, bones, or blood vessels in the chest. The doctor may order a chest x-ray if certain symptoms are present, such as:
- Bad or persistent cough
- Difficulty breathing
- Coughing up blood
- Chest pain
- Chest injury
- Abnormality of the rib cage
- Evidence of cancer
Chest x-rays are done using a small dose of radiation. If you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant, tell your doctor or the x-ray technician. X-rays are generally avoided during pregnancy, if possible.
What to Expect
Prior to Test
You will be asked to remove all jewelry from the waist up. You will also put on a hospital gown. A lead apron may be placed over your abdomen and pelvis. This is done to minimize the risks of radiation.
Description of Test
Pictures are usually taken from both a side view and a front view. An x-ray technician will position you according to the type of x-ray machine used. In most cases, you will stand against the x-ray plate with your hands up or to the side. You will be asked to take a deep breath and hold it while the x-ray is being taken. You will also be asked to stay as still as possible when the film is taken. You may notice that the film cartridge feels cool to your skin.
Call Your Doctor
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Heart Association
Radiology Info—Radiological Society of North America
Radiology for Patients
X-ray (radiography)—chest. Radiological Society of North America Radiology Info website. Available at: http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=chestrad&bhcp=1. Updated March 16, 2014. Accessed January 26, 2015.
Last reviewed March 2016 by James Cornell, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.