The discovery of x-rays by William Roentgen in 1896 was one of the greatest breakthroughs in medical history. X-rays remain the cornerstone of medical imaging, also known as radiology, and are used to diagnose a diverse range of medical conditions, such as bone fractures, lung infections and tumours, kidney stones and bowel obstruction.
X-rays are part of the radiation spectrum along with visible light or radio waves. X-rays pass through the body, which absorbs the radiation in varying degrees. Bone absorbs much of the radiation producing a white area on x-ray film, while soft tissues, such as muscle, fat and organs appear grey because these areas allow much of the x-ray to pass through. Air appears black because no radiation is absorbed.
At Mackay Radiology we use the latest digital x-ray technology to create and store your x-ray images. Your referring doctor can access your digital x-rays and scans through our secure online archival system, or view the films we provide.
Having a general x-ray is quite straightforward and usually painless. You may be asked to change into a gown to prevent buttons, zips, jewellery or other metal objects appearing as a false shadow on the x-ray. The radiographer who takes your x-ray will position the area of interest between the x-ray tube and the film. How you are positioned depends on the area of interest. For example, for a chest or shoulder x-ray you will stand, but for an abdomen or spine x-ray you may lie on a table. For an arm, wrist or hand x-ray you usually sit beside the x-ray table with your arm resting on the table. Once appropriately positioned, you will need to keep very still and may be asked to hold your breath for a few seconds, to avoid blurring of the image.
The radiographer will leave the room or stand behind a lead screen to avoid repeated exposure to ionising radiation. We always take care to ensure patients are given the smallest dose of radiation required for adequate image quality. Occasionally additional views are necessary to gain a better idea of the medical problem. No x-rays stay in the body after the test.
A radiologist will interpret your x-rays and send a report to your doctor. At Mackay Radiology, we compare and monitor all relevant, previous imaging for a more comprehensive evaluation and report. You will need to return to the doctor who referred you so that he or she can discuss the results with you.
X-ray imaging is the easiest, most cost-effective form of medical imaging, but in some cases further imaging with ultrasound, MRI or CT is needed. If you need further imaging, your doctor will explain the reason to you and provide another request form. Follow-up imaging is sometimes the best way to see if treatment is effective or if an abnormality gets worse. If you have a bone fracture, x-rays at regular intervals will show if the bone is healing properly.
If you know you are pregnant or suspect that you might be pregnant, you should advise the radiographer before your x-ray. Many imaging tests that use x-rays are not performed during pregnancy, in order to avoid exposing the foetus to unnecessary radiation. If an x-ray is necessary, precautions are taken to minimise exposure. See our patient safety section for advice about x-rays during pregnancy.