(Chest Radiography, CXR)
A chest X-ray is a type of diagnostic radiology procedure used to examine the chest and the organs and structures located in the chest. Chest X-rays may be used to assess the lungs, as well as the heart (either directly or indirectly) by looking at the heart itself. Certain conditions of the heart may cause changes in the lungs and/or the vessels of the lungs. Changes in the normal structure of the heart, lungs, and/or lung vessels may indicate disease or other conditions.
Chest X-rays may provide important information regarding the size, shape, contour, and anatomic location of the heart, lungs, bronchi, great vessels (aorta, aortic arch, pulmonary arteries), mediastinum (an area in the middle of the chest separating the lungs), and the bones (cervical and thoracic spine, clavicles, shoulder girdle, and ribs).
X-rays use invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs on film. X-rays are made by using external radiation to produce images of the body, its organs and other internal structures for diagnostic purposes. X-rays pass through body tissues onto specially treated plates (similar to camera film) and a “negative” type picture is made (the more solid a structure is, the whiter it appears on the film).
Depending on the results of the chest X-ray, additional tests or procedures may be requested by your doctor for further diagnostic information.
Other related procedures that may be used to diagnose problems of the chest and respiratory tract include chest fluoroscopy, chest ultrasound, computed tomography (CT scan) of the chest, lung biopsy, lung scans, mediastinoscopy, positron emission tomography (PET scan) of the chest, pleural biopsy, thoracentesis, sinus X-rays, pulmonary angiogram, bronchoscopy, and bronchography. Please see these procedures for additional information.
The respiratory system is made up of the organs involved in the interchanges of gases, and consists of the:
The upper respiratory tract includes the:
The lower respiratory tract includes the lungs, bronchi, and alveoli.
The lungs take in oxygen, which cells need to live and carry out their normal functions. The lungs also get rid of carbon dioxide, a waste product of the body's cells.
The lungs are a pair of cone-shaped organs made up of spongy, pinkish-gray tissue. They take up most of the space in the chest, or the thorax (the part of the body between the base of the neck and diaphragm).
The lungs are enveloped in a membrane called the pleura.
The lungs are separated from each other by the mediastinum, an area that contains the following:
The right lung has three sections, called lobes. The left lung has two lobes. When you breathe, the air enters the body through the nose or the mouth. It then travels down the throat through the larynx (voice box) and trachea (windpipe) and goes into the lungs through tubes called main-stem bronchi.
One main-stem bronchus leads to the right lung and one to the left lung. In the lungs, the main-stem bronchi divide into smaller bronchi and then into even smaller tubes called bronchioles. Bronchioles end in tiny air sacs called alveoli.
Chest X-rays may be used to assess heart status (either directly or indirectly) by looking at the heart itself, as well as the lungs. Changes in the normal structure of the heart, lungs, and/or lung vessels may indicate disease or other conditions.
Conditions that may be assessed with a chest X-ray include, but are not limited to, the following:
Other reasons for performing a chest X-ray may include:
There may be other reasons for your doctor to recommend a chest X-ray.
You may want to ask your doctor about the amount of radiation used during the procedure and the risks related to your particular situation. It is a good idea to keep a record of your past history of radiation exposure, such as previous scans and other types of X-rays, so that you can inform your doctor. Risks associated with radiation exposure may be related to the cumulative number of X-ray examinations and/or treatments over a long period of time.
If you are pregnant or suspect that you may be pregnant, you should notify your doctor. Radiation exposure during pregnancy may lead to birth defects.
There may be other risks depending on your specific medical condition. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your doctor prior to the procedure.
A chest X-ray may be performed on an outpatient basis or as part of your stay in a hospital. Procedures may vary depending on your condition and your doctor’s practices.
Generally, a chest X-ray follows this process:
While the X-ray procedure itself causes no pain, the manipulation of the body part being examined may cause some discomfort or pain, particularly in the case of a recent injury or invasive procedure, such as surgery. The radiologic technologist will use all possible comfort measures and complete the procedure as quickly as possible to minimize any discomfort or pain.
Generally, there is no special type of care after a chest X-ray. However, your doctor may give you additional or alternate instructions after the procedure, depending on your particular situation.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease, or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your doctor. Please consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.
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