What Are the Risks of X-Rays?


X-rays contain many risks to the human body and cells, but at the same time provide benefits in the sense that they help doctors understand what is wrong with a patient's body, inside and out. While they are obviously necessary to the medical field, unfortunately, x-rays are harmful to the patient receiving them, the x-ray technician administering the procedure and anyone in the area where the x-ray is being used. It is important to know about these risks and effects.


X-rays were discovered in 1895 by accident and many people are surprised to know that x-rays have been known for the past 100 years. Scientists investigating cathode rays originally stumbled upon the process. German scientist Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen was one of the first to start recording information about x-rays, which he called "x" because the type of radiation was unknown. Other scientists were involved with understanding x-rays and discovering different aspects of the x-ray, such as Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla and Johann Hittorf. In the early 1900s, the idea of x-rays utilized for medical purposes was investigated by John Hall Edwards in England, who ended up having his arm amputated from x-ray dermatitis. Harmful x-ray effects were realized almost immediately after the x-ray was invented.


X-rays work by producing an electromagnetic, high energy radiation to see certain organs or bones when something needs to be viewed inside the body without the hassle of surgery. X-rays are a form of waves just like ultraviolet or radio waves, but have a different wavelength so they can be used for x-ray purposes. The way they work is that the radiation passes through certain parts of the human body, while being blocked by others. This is why x-rays show white parts and black parts (example, a bone in an x-ray appears white while your heart appears black). Different types of x-rays produce different results. A shorter wavelength x-ray is used for more therapeutic purposes, while longer wavelengths are more serious and used for diagnostic purposes. When receiving x-rays, an x-ray machine is placed up to the part of the body to be viewed and the waves go through that side of the body to the other. Protective gear is put on where necessary, such as if you are at the dentist and they place the protective x-ray film in one side of your mouth.


The harmful effects of an x-ray include many things. Biological radiation effects is very destructive to any sort of living tissue and in a person it can cause DNA mutation. DNA damage can bring about cell suicide and random cell division, cell dormancy and possibly even form a cancerous tumor (ironic since radiation is used to get rid of cancer cells). X-rays can be very harmful to a woman who is pregnant and can cause defects in the baby and affect the childbirth process. The blood system can be affected by the radiation. If red blood cells are affected, you can suffer from anemia and if the white blood cells are affected, they may turn on your immune system and body and make you susceptible to even the most mild of diseases and infections. The genitalia and reproductive system can be affected with cell change and might cause you to become sterile. Bone marrow is also very likely to become affected by x-rays, which is the tissue within bones. The damage of bone marrow affects the skin and hair follicles a lot, which will result in hair loss, rashes and redness of skin tissue.

Time Frame

Harmful effects from x-ray radiation can appear in the body and skin immediately after treatment or exposure, but to find out if there have been any harmful effects inside of the body, a pregnancy or blood system, it is trickier to discover. Effects on the outside of the body can appear anywhere from a couple of hours after the treatment to several days. If you are around x-rays consistently and you feel ill for an extended period of time, you may be experiencing harmful effects within your body, blood system or organs and it would be wise to see a doctor.


It is important to understand how x-rays work on, around and in the body, especially if you work with an x-ray machine or if you are receiving x-rays or radiation regularly. A radiation technician or radiologist should always wear protective gear, such as lead aprons or gloves and the most effective way to avoid harmful effects from x-rays is to stand behind a lead screen to absorb the main beams of x-rays, as well as the scattered x-ray beams. A patient should only undergo an x-ray if it is vital to gain more information about his health condition than just a physical examination can provide.

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