Chest x ray: The good and the bad

Chest x ray gives an image of your chest cavity, which includes the heart muscle, large arteries, lungs, diaphragm as well as the bones of the rib cage and the spine.

Although it uses small amounts of ionizing radiations to create an image, of the heart muscle, it is not the first option when it comes to diagnosing heart disease.

However, despite that, it is one of the oldest and most used diagnostic tools, when it comes to medical imaging. It is quick, easy and simple way to detect abnormalities in the chest cavity, including the heart.

During x-ray, bones absorb the biggest amount of radiation, while the ionizing particles easily go through the less thick tissue such as the organs and the flesh. Because of this, on the x-ray image, bones are portrayed white or light gray, tissue and organs are dark grey, while the air is black.

WHAT IS CHEST X RAY USED FOR

The test can be used to find the cause of:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Persistent cough (including coughing up blood)

Or to determine:

  • Size and shape of the heart
  • Position and the condition of the pacemaker
  • State of the large arteries
  • Flow of air through the lungs

Besides heart disease, chest x-ray is also used to diagnose lung cancer, respiratory diseases and many forms of bacterial infections, among other.

HOW TO PREPARE FOR CHEST X RAY

During my chest x ray, I had to take my shirt of and remove all the objects above my waistline. Although I didn't had any jewelry or dental braces, if you have some, you will have to remove them.

If you are a women and you are pregnant, tell the doctor, before the test. X-rays are rarely preformed in cases such as this, in order to prevent exposing fetus to the radiation.

However, if the test is necessary, safety measures will be taken, in order to decrease the amount of radiation exposure to the fetus. You may be give a gown, during the exam but this usually applies for women. I wasn't given one, since I am a male.

RISKS OF CHEST X RAY

Only risk of this kind of test is associated with radiation exposure. Although it is very small, it is not negligible.

While having one or two x-rays is not significant, having more than that, especially in a short amount of time, is a reason for concern.

Also, besides pregnant women, children and older individuals are more prone to the risk that x-ray brings. Having an antioxidant rich diet, couple of days before and after the test, may help protect the cells in your body from radiation exposure and flush it out.

HOW IS CHEST X RAY PREFORMED

After you have taken of your clothes, jewelry or any other objects which may interfiere with the test, technician will position you in front of the machine. There are usually two pictures taken, one from the front and one from the side.

While x ray pictures are taken, you must stand very still. I had to hold my breath for couple of seconds which is very common during chest x-ray. This helps prevent blurring of the picture and gives clearer image.

Although you usually stand in front of the device, if you are unable to stand, the test can be done with portable X-ray machine, while you are lying down. The test is painless, that is, you won't feel nothing while x ray pictures are taken. Whole process lasts about 10-15 minutes.

WHAT TO EXPECT AFTER CHEST X RAY

After the pictures have been taken, you will be asked to put your clothes back on and wait in the waiting room until the technician checks the images. If the images are clear and the quality is good, you will be free to go home.

Although images are available right away, they are left for the specifically trained physician, for analysis. Before you go home, technician will tell you when the results will be available. In some cases, they may be sent to your doctor which will inform you about the results.

In my case, they were available in a few days, along with radiologist's report and I had to pick them up personally. After that, I brought the results to my doctor which told me what was already written on the radiologist's report. Besides the increased air flow in my left lung due to enlarged heart, the test was ok.

CONCLUSION

Although chest x-ray can be very useful in diagnosing heart disease, the less radiation your body recieves, the better.

I personally don't like x-ray test but they are effective in detecting heart abnormalities. Some of you may even require follow-up tests, in the future.

In this case, besides antioxidant rich foods, you can consider adding iodine or seaweed such as kelp which contains iodine, to your diet. Iodine may help protect your body, especially the thyroid gland, from radiation.





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