In 1895 W.C. Roentgen invented roentgenograms (rent-jen-oh-grams) - today simply termed x-rays or radiographs (radio-graphs). Although x-rays have changed over the years, the principle remains the same. Today's x-rays use only a fraction of the x-ray dose required in the early days of radiology.
Today X-rays are used everyday in hospitals, medical centers, doctor's offices, and many other places. Testing is fast, easy, and painless.
How X-Rays Work
Radiographs are produced by means of a source that radiates (spreads) x-rays through a part of the body (such as the spine). As the x-rays pass through the body, many types and levels of tissue weaken the rays. Bones are denser than soft tissue (e.g. cartilage, muscle) and absorb more radiation. That is why bones show up as whiter images on the x-ray.
The x-ray energy is directed into a film cassette that has been placed into a special container under or behind the body part. The film is developed in much the same manner as a photograph.
Before an X-Ray
If you need an x-ray, your doctor will tell you if any pre-test preparation is required. At the imaging center, the x-ray technician will ask you questions before the test. The technician needs to know if you have any special health conditions, any metal implants (such as an artificial joint), or any allergies.
Next, you will be asked to remove any metal objects (like belts or jewelry) and change into a gown. Sometimes a "contrast agent" is used. This is a special dye that is injected into your bloodstream to brighten particular body parts and make them easier to see.
The technician will then lead you into the x-ray room and will position you for the test. Sometimes you need to stand, turn to the side, or lie on a table. The technician may place a lead apron on you to protect other body parts from radiation.
During the Test
The technician operates the x-ray equipment from a control room or booth. This room or booth shields the technician from radiation. Throughout the test the technician will keep an eye on you and will let you know what to expect next - no surprises.
During the test, you must remain still; otherwise the pictures are blurry and must be retaken. From time to time the technician may ask you to hold your breath for a few seconds to help you keep still.
After all the images the taken, you may be asked to wait a few minutes before getting dressed. Why? Well - once in a while, an image needs to be redone. Once the technician is happy with the images you are free to leave.
The film studies are handed over to a Radiologist (a type of doctor) to review. The Radiologist writes a report to your doctor outlining his or her findings.