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Chest X-Ray

A chest X-ray is a picture of the chest that shows your heart, lungs, airway, blood vessels, and lymph nodes camera.gif. A chest X-ray also shows the bones of your spine and chest, including your breastbone camera.gif, your ribs, your collarbone camera.gif, and the upper part of your spine camera.gif. 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 help find some problems with the organs and structures inside the chest. 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. 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.

Why It Is Done

A chest X-ray is done to:

  • Help find the cause of common symptoms such as a cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain.
  • Find lung conditions—such as pneumonia, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), collapsed lung (pneumothorax), or cystic fibrosis—and monitor treatment for these conditions.
  • Find some heart problems, such as an enlarged heart, heart failure, and problems causing fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema), and to monitor treatment for these conditions.
  • Look for problems from a chest injury, such as rib fractures or lung damage.
  • Find foreign objects camera.gif, such as coins or other small pieces of metal, in the tube to the stomach (esophagus), the airway, or the lungs. A chest X-ray may not be able to see food, nuts, or wood fibers. .
  • See if a tube, catheter, or other medical device has been placed in the proper position in an airway, the heart, blood vessels of the chest, or the stomach.

How To Prepare

Tell your doctor if you are or might be pregnant. A chest X-ray usually is not done during pregnancy because the radiation could harm the unborn baby (fetus). But the chance of harm to the fetus is very small. If you need a chest X-ray, you will wear a lead apron to help protect your baby.

Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding the need for the test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results mean. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).

How It Is Done

A chest X-ray is taken by a radiology technologist. The pictures are usually read by a radiologist, who writes the report. Other types of doctors, such as a family medicine doctor, internist, or surgeon, also may review chest X-rays.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: June 11, 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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