What is Chest X-Ray?

By Medically reviewed by hellodoktor

Know the basics

What is Chest X-Ray?

A chest X-ray is a picture of the chest that shows your heart, lungs, airway, blood vessels, and lymph nodes. A chest X-ray also shows the bones of your spine and chest, including your breastbone, your ribs, your collarbone, and the upper part of your spine. A chest X-ray is the most common imaging test or X-ray used to find problems inside the chest.

A chest X-ray can reveal many things inside your body, including:

  • The condition of your lungs. Chest X-rays can detect cancer, infection or air collecting in the space around a lung (pneumothorax). They can also show chronic lung conditions, such as emphysema or cystic fibrosis, as well as complications related to these conditions.
  • Heart-related lung problems. Chest X-rays can show changes or problems in your lungs that stem from heart problems. For instance, fluid in your lungs (pulmonary edema) can be a result of congestive heart failure.
  • The size and outline of your heart. Changes in the size and shape of your heart may indicate heart failure, fluid around the heart (pericardial effusion) or heart valve problems.
  • Blood vessels. Because the outlines of the large vessels near your heart — the aorta and pulmonary arteries and veins — are visible on X-rays, they may reveal aortic aneurysms, other blood vessel problems or congenital heart disease.
  • Calcium deposits. Chest X-rays can detect the presence of calcium in your heart or blood vessels. Its presence may indicate damage to your heart valves, coronary arteries, heart muscle or the protective sac that surrounds the heart. Calcium deposits in your lungs are most often from an old, resolved infection.
  • Fractures. Rib or spine fractures or other problems with bone may be seen on a chest X-ray.
  • Postoperative changes. Chest X-rays are useful for monitoring your recovery after you’ve had surgery in your chest, such as on your heart, lungs or esophagus. Your doctor can look at any lines or tubes that were placed during surgery to check for air leaks and areas of fluid or air buildup.
  • A pacemaker, defibrillator or catheter. Pacemakers and defibrillators have wires (leads) attached to your heart to make sure your heart rate and rhythm are normal. Catheters are small tubes used to deliver medications or for dialysis. A chest X-ray usually is taken after placement of such medical devices to make sure everything is positioned correctly.

Usually two pictures are taken, one from the back of the chest and another from the side. In an emergency when only one X-ray picture is taken, a front view is usually done.

Why is Chest X-Ray performed?

A chest X-ray is often among the first procedures you’ll undergo if your doctor suspects you have heart or lung disease. It can also be used to check how you are responding to treatment. 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.

Things to know before

What should I know before receiving Chest X-Ray?

Doctors may not always get the information they need from a chest X-ray to find the cause of a problem. If the results from a chest X-ray are not normal or do not give enough information about the chest problem, more specific X-rays or other tests may be done, such as a computed tomography (CT) scan, an ultrasound, an echocardiogram, or an MRI scan.

Your X-ray test results may be different from earlier test results because you were tested at a different medical center or you had a different kind of test.

Some conditions may not show up on a chest X-ray, such as a small cancer, a pulmonary embolus, or other problem that is hidden by the normal structures in the chest.

Certain workers, such as people who work with asbestos, may need regular chest X-rays to check for problems caused by asbestos.

Know what happens

How to prepare for Chest X-Ray?

A chest x-ray requires no special preparation.

You may be asked to remove some or all of your clothes and to wear a gown during the exam. You may also be asked to remove jewelry, removable dental appliances, eye glasses and any metal objects or clothing that might interfere with the x-ray images.

Women should always inform their physician and x-ray technologist if there is any possibility that they are pregnant. Many imaging tests are not performed during pregnancy so as not to expose the fetus to radiation. If an x-ray is necessary, precautions will be taken to minimize radiation exposure to the baby.

What happens during Chest X-Ray?

You usually stand with your front against an X-ray plate for the pictures. If you need to sit or lie down, someone will help you get into the correct position.

You will need to hold very still during the X-ray to prevent blurring of the picture. You may be asked to hold your breath for a few seconds while the X-ray picture is taken.

Most hospitals and some clinics have portable X-ray machines. If a chest X-ray is done with a portable X-ray machine at your bedside in a hospital, an X-ray technologist and nurse will help you move into the correct position. Usually only one picture from the front is taken.

What happens after Chest X-Ray?

You can return to your normal activities right after the test done. The results of a chest x-ray can be available almost immediately for review by your physician.

Follow-up examinations may be necessary, and your doctor will explain the exact reason why another exam is requested.

If you have any questions about the chest X-Ray, please consult with your doctor to better understand your instructions.

Understand the results

What do my results mean?

In an emergency, the results of a chest X-ray can be available within a few minutes for review by your doctor.

Chest X-ray
Normal: The lungs look normal in size and shape, and the lung tissue looks normal. No growths or other masses can be seen within the lungs. The pleural spaces (the spaces surrounding the lungs) also look normal.
The heart looks normal in size, shape, and the heart tissue looks normal. The blood vessels leading to and from the heart also are normal in size, shape, and appearance.
The bones including the spine and ribs look normal.
The diaphragm looks normal in shape and location.
No abnormal collection of fluid or air is seen, and no foreign objects are seen.
All tubes, catheters, or other medical devices are in their correct positions in the chest.
Abnormal: An infection, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis, is present.
Problems such as a tumor, injury, or a condition such as edema from heart failure may be seen. In some cases, more X-rays or other tests may be needed to see the problem clearly.
A problem such as an enlarged heart—which could be caused by heart damage, heart valve disease, or fluid around the heart—is seen. Or a problem of the blood vessels, such as an enlarged aorta, an aneurysm, or hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), is seen.
Fluid is seen in the lungs (pulmonary edema) or around the lungs (pleural effusion), or air is seen in the spaces around a lung (pneumothorax).
Broken bones (fractures) are seen in the rib cage, collarbone, shoulder, or spine.
Enlarged lymph nodes are seen.
A foreign object is seen in the esophagus, breathing tubes, or lungs.
A tube, catheter, or other medical device looks like it has moved out of the correct position.

Depending on the laboratory and hospital, the normal range for chest X-Ray may vary. Please discuss with your doctor any questions you may have about your test results.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: May 30, 2016 | Last Modified: September 12, 2019

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