What Does an X-Ray Show?


An X-ray shows an image of dense substances within the human body. This is primarily bones. However, an X-ray is also useful for spotting tumors, infections and some blood clots. X-ray machines are a valuable diagnostic tool for medical professionals. They allow doctors to see inside a person without having to cut them open.


An X-ray very clearly shows the condition of bones within a body. Since bones are very dense, they appear prominently in X-ray images. Doctors use them to determine whether a bone is broken. If it is, the X-ray shows the doctor where the bone fractures are located so she can determine the best way to repair the bone. X-rays are also valuable for seeing deformities of the spine, problems with joints and spotting bone spurs. Dentists are some of the most frequent users of X-rays. They allow dentists to see beneath the gums and inside the teeth.


An X-ray of the torso reveals the features of the heart, lungs and digestive system in addition to the bones surrounding them. Doctors often use chest X-rays to look for problems with human organs. X-rays can reveal some heart conditions, blood clots, intestinal blockages, scar tissue and tumors like cancer. Tuberculosis and pneumonia can be spotted in X-rays when the lungs swell or fill with fluid.


There are limitations to consider with X-rays. They are two dimensional images of a three dimensional body. An X-ray shows only the densest materials inside. Soft tissue injuries can be hidden behind dense matter like a bone. X-ray technicians take images from multiple angles but it is easy to miss small tumors and blood clots. Doctors often order an X-ray for an injured area of the body then follow up with a secondary image like an MRI, an ultrasound or a CT scan.


X-rays are short wavelength electromagnetic rays that pass through most matter less dense than lead. They are projected through a human body part with a photographic plate on the other side. The X-rays that pass through the body expose the photographic plate producing the X-ray image. The denser parts of the body, like bone, block more X-rays than the less dense parts. Doctors often inject dense liquids into the body so certain areas show up better on X-ray images. This can reveal cavities of the body that leak, or the shape and size of an internal organ.


X-rays have been used since 1896. German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen won a Nobel Prize for his work with X-rays. In fact, another term for X-rays is Rontgen rays. It was Rontgen who first suggested a medical use for X-rays. He accidentally exposed his wife's hand on a photographic plate with X-rays, revealing the bones in her hand and ring on her finger.

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