When Should You Get an X-Ray?
Last updated on June 19th, 2020.
If you have ever wanted to know about how something works, the quickest way would naturally be to take it apart and put it back together again. Unfortunately, that is not something that you can easily accomplish if the specific object that you want to study is the human body.
For that reason, sci-fi writers and inventors came up with the concept of x-ray glasses that reportedly allow the user to see through walls, clothes, and possibly even bodies. Unfortunately, human technology is not yet that advanced. In truth, many of the x-ray glasses sold in the market can only make the users feel slightly dizzy or create fancy optical illusions at most. After all, an x-ray device is far too complicated and dangerous to leave in the hands of children without any radiation protection, much less in a position that is so close to the delicate eye area.
How Does An X-Ray Work?
Despite its similarity to the artificial light sources that are used on a daily basis, the light beam of an x-ray machine is able to pass through light and nonmetallic objects including human tissues. However, these light beams are not visible to the naked eye since they vibrate on a much shorter wavelength.
Generally, an x-ray allows the doctor to look into his patient without the need for incisions. Similar to the concept of the sci-fi x-ray glasses, an actual x-ray machine produces on a metal film a snapshot of the structures or bones inside your body. The softer tissues, such as muscle and fat, are shown as grey shapes on the film. Meanwhile, denser bones or metal parts appear as bright white structures since they are able to absorb the radiation. Finally, the air in your lungs appears completely black.
Why Should You Get An X-Ray?
The most common reasons people would opt to get an x-ray are a bone fracture, a dental infection, and dental decay. Since bones and teeth appear quite clearly on the film, it is easier for dentists and doctors to determine the problem.
Patients who are suffering from painful joints are also often recommended to undergo yearly x-ray sessions. The x-ray will enable your doctor to discern whether your arthritis is worsening or improving.
Illnesses that are concentrated in the bones, such as osteoporosis and bone cancer, can also be remedied with early treatment if the patient chooses to have themselves x-rayed. The machine can detect any signs of tumor and allow the doctor to treat it before it progresses.
Conversely, illnesses concentrated in softer tissues such as the lungs, heart, and breast could also benefit from a quick x-ray. Diseases of the lung such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, and lung cancer can be quickly detected through a chest x-ray. An abnormally enlarged heart can also appear on a chest x-ray and determine the extent of a patient’s chances of congestive heart failure.
For special cases, a mammography can also be conducted to examine a patient’s breast tissue. This special x-ray test helps the doctor observe any strange growths in the tissue that could potentially progress into breast cancer.
Lastly, younger patients or even family pets can undergo an x-ray if they accidentally swallow a small object. Unsurprisingly, toys such as tiny dolls, balls, and even coins and keys are some of the most common items that can appear inside a toddler’s stomach x-ray.
What Are The Risks Involved?
While an x-ray can help a doctor detect a potentially malignant tumor in its early stages and prevent its growth, some patients are still wary that there is not enough radiation protection used in the procedure. After all, radiation exposure has been known to cause cell mutations that could eventually lead to cancer.
Normally, though, the amount of radiation that your body is exposed to at any given time is relatively low. Nevertheless, children are still given x-rays with caution and with a significant amount of radiation protection since their growing bodies are more sensitive to the radiation.
Are X-Rays Safe?
In truth, the body part, tissue, or organ that will be examined will determine the amount of radiation to which you will be exposed. In some cases, you will even be required to wear x-ray aprons to provide the majority of your body with a certain level of protection.
X-ray aprons are special clothes that are often constructed with a rubber exterior and a lead interior. The lead safety clothing reduces the amount of radiation that can penetrate your vital organs.
Lead safety clothing items are particularly helpful in protecting a patient’s reproductive organs. After all, it is possible that excessive radiation exposure can cause serious damage to the egg or sperm cells and result in genetic mutations.
Similarly, pregnant women or women who suspect that they might be pregnant could opt to wear x-ray aprons to protect their unborn babies. Conversely, they could opt to undergo a different type of imaging test such as an ultrasound instead. Still, it should be said that most diagnostic x-rays carry minimal risks and the benefits of these tests still outweigh the perceived threats.