X-rays - Uses and Types

Last updated: March 23, 2021

X-rays - Uses and Types

Ahmed Raza


X-rays help doctors to discover and treat medical conditions like broken bones and life-endangering diseases. Specialist doctors, called radiologists, can study these images to identify medical conditions or injuries. Different x-rays methods expose patients to varying amounts of radiation.1 Before the invention of X-ray machines, people with critical injuries underwent exploratory surgery to discover what was wrong.2

X-rays are a type of electromagnetic wave. X-ray imaging generates a photo of the inside of the patient’s body in several shades of black and white. Different tissues soak up varying quantities of radiation.

The most common use of x-rays is detecting fractures (broken bone), but x-rays can be used in other ways. For example, chest x-rays can detect pneumonia, and mammograms apply x-rays to screen breast cancer.3

What are X-rays

X-rays are a type of electromagnetic emission that can infiltrate clothing, internal organs, and body tissues. An X-ray machine transmits this radiation through the body. Some of the radiation appears on the other side of the body, where it is detected by a film or is absorbed by a digital detector to produce an image, and some is consumed in body tissues.

X-rays are successful in the timely detection and treatment of illness, and how easily accessible they are in the physician’s office, clinics, and hospitals. X-rays are used more frequently in practice than in the previous decades, according to the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements.

In the early 1980s, medical x-rays comprised about 11 percent of the total radiation faced by the U.S population. Present calculations credit almost 35 percent of all radiation exposure to medical X-rays. Approximately 50 percent of all radiation in the environment is unearthed due to natural origins. Nuclear medicine radioactive material makes up about 12 percent to produce pictures of the body.

The radiation dose from medical x-rays has grown nearly 500 percent per person since 1982. Almost half of the radiation dose is due to computed tomography (CT) equipment,because radiation exposures from CT are greater than other X-rays.2

Types of X-rays

1. Dental X-rays

The dentist uses x-rays to examine the condition of your teeth through the cheek and gums to produce an image on special x-ray film fixed between teeth. Modern x-ray machines produce a digital image instead of utilizing film.

Usual dental x-rays require a small amount of radiations to create an image, however, more detailed pictures are required in special circumstances like dental implants or planning for orthodontics. In such cases, cone beam computed tomography may be utilized, which needs higher raddoses than usual.

2. Mammography

Mammograms are a vital tool in the timely identification of breast cancer. A mammogram is an x-ray image of breast tissue that is used to identify breast cancer. There are two types of mammograms:

3. CT Scans

Computed tomography (CT) scans are an x-ray method that produces cross-sectional views and 3D images of a patient’s internal organs. When a person undergoes a CT scan, multiple x-rays are taken at the same time. These comprehensive pictures assist doctors to detect problems inside the body, such as organ damage or tumors. CT scans use several hundred times more radiation than a conventional x-ray. When seeing if a CT is appropriate, the information obtained from the CT scan should exceed the risk of radiation exposure from the test itself.

4. Fluoroscopy

Fluoroscopy is a real-time x-ray to show movement. It can display the activity of a body part, like the heartbeat or the path followed by a medical instrument as it travels through the body. Fluoroscopy manages an intermittent, pulsed x-ray beam that travels through the body. The real-time images are sent to a monitor where doctors can examine the body part and its movement.1


X-ray imaging tests are a pain-free process that permits doctors to discover diseases and injuries without being invasive. These tests also allow healthcare providers to:

X-ray imaging has its own risks, like many aspects of medicine, as it applies ionizing radiation to produce images of the body. Because the radiation dose used in a normal x-ray is minimum, the benefit usually outweighs the risk. However, it is still necessary for patients to understand the risks, benefits, and what to do if an x-ray is advised.4


Last reviewed and updated by on Dec 8, 2020

Caitlin Goodwin, DNP, RN, CNM, is a Board Certified Nurse-Midwife, Registered Nurse, and freelance writer. She has over twelve years of experience in nursing practice.

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