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Skull X-Ray

How It Feels

You will feel no discomfort from the X-rays. The X-ray table may feel hard and the room may be cool. You may find that the positions you need to hold are uncomfortable or painful, especially if you have an injury.

Risks

There is always a slight risk of damage to cells or tissue from being exposed to any radiation, including the low levels of radiation used for this test. But the risk of damage from the X-rays is usually very low compared with the potential benefits of the test.

For example, the radiation exposure from a chest X-ray is about equal to the natural radiation exposure received during a round-trip airline flight from Boston to Los Angeles (Montreal to Vancouver) or 10 days in the Rocky Mountains (Denver, Colorado).

Results

A skull X-ray is a series of pictures of the bones of the skull. In an emergency, the doctor can see the initial results of a skull X-ray in a few minutes. Otherwise, a radiologist usually has the official X-ray report ready the next day.

Skull X-ray
Normal:

The bones of the skull are normal in size and appearance.

No foreign objects, abnormal growths, or bone abnormalities are present.

No broken bones are present.

Abnormal:

Foreign objects, such as fragments of metal or glass, may be present.

Abnormal growths, such as tumors, may be present.

Broken bones may be present.

Signs of a disease that affects the bones of the skull may be present.

What Affects the Test

Reasons you may not be able to have the test or why the results may not be helpful include:

  • If you can't remain still during the test. The pictures may not be clear.
  • If you have a possible neck injury. In this case, it may not be possible to do a complete set of skull X-rays.
  • If you have a false eye (prosthetic eye) or other artificial or metal objects on the head. These can make a shadow on the X-ray picture that hides part of the bones.

What To Think About

  • A computed tomography (CT) scan may be done instead of a skull X-ray. A CT scan shows more detail than an X-ray does. It may show tiny fractures better than an X-ray and can also show injuries to the brain and other tissues. CT scans are more expensive than skull X-rays and may not be available in some areas. To learn more, see the topic Computed Tomography (CT) Scan of the Head and Face.
  • Your X-ray 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.

Other Works Consulted

  • Chernecky CC, Berger BJ (2008). Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures, 5th ed. St. Louis: Saunders.

  • Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009). Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: April 24, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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