Having any hospital scans or tests can be daunting. However, it doesn't need to be once you know all the facts. So, here's a quick run down of everything you need to know about X-ray and scans.
Around thirty years ago, X-rays were the only way for medical professionals to see what was happening inside your body. For example, if they needed to locate broken bones.
Nowadays, there are a whole host of different medical imaging methods available. No part of the human body can remain unseen.
Most people have had an X-ray at least once in their lives
Most people have had an X-ray at least once in their lives. For example, they are commonly used by dentists to see your teeth.
You will be asked to lie on a table or stand against a surface so that the part of your body being X-rayed is between the X-ray source and a drawer containing a film cassette (similar to a photographic film).
X-rays work by aiming a beam of high-energy electromagnetic radiation through your body. These rays are able to pass through your body tissue and pick out the denser areas of tissue, such as bones.
You can have more than one X-ray, and it can be taken from different angles to let your doctor see more information. For example, your lungs may be X-rayed from both the front and side.
X-ray scans during pregnancy
If you are pregnant, having an X-ray may not be an option. This is because there is a very small risk of harm to your baby. Your doctor may advise you to postpone any unnecessary X-rays until after giving birth.
If you cannot postpone having an X-ray - for example if your doctor feels the risk of not having the examination is of greater risk to your health - the radiographer on the day will cover your lower abdomen with a lead apron to protect your baby.
CT scans (short for computerized tomography scan) are scans that use a special computer to produce highly detailed, three dimensional, pictures of the inside of your body. These are far more detailed than a normal X-ray.
CT scans can pick out bones and soft tissues. They are often used to pinpoint tumors and other ailments in soft tissues, that cannot be picked up on a normal X-ray.
If you are pregnant you should not have a CT scan
Using a CT scan has enabled some medical professionals to avoid doing exploratory surgery. This is when a surgeon has to make an incision (cut) to a part of your body, in order to diagnose a condition, such as cancer.
For a CT scan, you will be asked to lie on a bed. This bed will then pass through a scanner (a large machine with a hole in the middle). It is a painless procedure and can be performed at an outpatient appointment (which means you will not have to be admitted to the hospital overnight).
In some cases, dye will be injected into your veins or swallowed to highlight a specific body area (such as the blood vessels or an organ like the stomach).
CT scans during pregnancy
If you are pregnant you should not have a CT scan. There is a small risk that they can harm your unborn baby.
Make sure to tell your doctor or hospital doctor if you think there is a chance that you may be pregnant before having a scan.
MRI scans (magnetic resonance imaging scans) are not the same as X-rays - they don't use X-rays or gamma rays to get an image. MRI scans use magnetic and radio waves, removing the need to use radiation.
MRI scans use magnetic and radio waves - not radiation like X-rays
An MRI scanner looks like a short tunnel that sits in the middle of a large magnet. You lie on a bed that moves into the tunnel. Receiving devices (made from smaller magnets) are placed over the body parts that need examining.
MRI scans are completely painless. They can take up to an hour, depending on the size of the area being looked at.
MRI scans during pregnancy
If you are pregnant you are advised not to have an MRI scan.
However, they can be performed if absolutely necessary. Speak with your doctor or hospital doctor for further information.
They are used to monitor your unborn baby and are often a routine procedure for pregnant women.
X-rays use radiation to gain an image of your body. They can be used to diagnose an illness or condition, or sometimes even treat them (in the case of certain cancers).
A single X-ray scan uses very small doses of radiation and poses a minimal risk to your health. CT scans, for example, use a slightly higher dose of radiation.
A single X-ray scan uses a very small dose of radiation - it poses a very minimal risk to your overall health
We are exposed to a certain amount of radiation every day, which comes from our natural surroundings (such as building materials, the ground, our food and even from space). Medical X-rays add a small dose on top of this natural radiation.
Radiation doses for X-rays are thousands of times too small to cause immediate harmful effects to your health. Research shows that people who have these X-rays are very slightly more at risk of developing cancer many years after the scan.
For this reason, medical professionals will only ever use X-rays and scans if they are absolutely necessary in the diagnosis or treatment of an illness or condition.
If you are concerned about having an X-ray, or about the amount of radiation you are exposed to, speak with your doctor, specialist or radiologist for more information.