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A chest x-ray is an x-ray of the chest, lungs, heart, large arteries, ribs, and diaphragm.
Chest radiography; Serial chest x-ray; X-ray - chest
How the Test is Performed
You stand in front of the x-ray machine. You will be told to hold your breath when the x-ray is taken.
Two images are usually taken. You will first need to stand facing the machine, and then sideways.
How to Prepare for the Test
Tell the health care provider if you are pregnant. Chest x-rays are generally not done during pregnancy, and special precautions are taken if they are needed.
How the Test will Feel
There is no discomfort. The imaging plate may feel cold.
Why the Test is Performed
Your provider 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
A serial chest x-ray is one that is repeated. It may be done to monitor changes found on a past chest x-ray.
What Abnormal Results Mean
Abnormal results may be due to many things, including:
In the lungs:
- Collapsed lung
- Collection of fluid around the lung
- Lung tumor (noncancerous or cancerous)
- Malformation of the blood vessels
- Scarring of lung tissue
In the heart:
- Problems with the size, position or shape of the heart
- Problems with the position, size and shape of the large arteries
- Evidence of heart failure
In the bones:
In the mediastinum (middle part of the chest):
- Enlargement, which might be related to infection or tumor
There is low radiation exposure. X-rays are monitored and regulated to provide the minimum amount of radiation exposure needed to produce the image. Most experts feel that the benefits outweigh the risks. Pregnant women and children are more sensitive to the risks of x-rays.
Chernecky CC, Berger BJ. Chest radiography (chest x-ray, CXR) - diagnostic norm. In: Chernecky CC, Berger BJ, eds. Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures. 6th ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:327-328.
Felker GM, Teerlink JR. Diagnosis and management of acute heart failure. In: Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann DL, Tomaselli GF, Bhatt DL, Solomon SD, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 49.
Jokerst CE, Gotway MB. Thoracic radiology: noninvasive diagnostic imaging. In: Broaddus VC, Ernst JD, King TE, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 20.
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