At Memorial Hermann, we offer a full range of X-ray examinations conducted by specialty trained professionals at more than a dozen imaging center locations throughout Greater Houston. If your doctor has ordered an X-ray exam, you can book your exam with confidence, knowing you can visit an imaging center location close to home and have your questions answered by our experienced staff and affiliated radiologists.

What is an X-ray?

X-ray (also known as radiography) is an imaging technique that uses ionizing radiation to produce a 2-D static image of the interior of your body. X-rays help to diagnose disease, damage to bones or organs, and other anomalies, as well as to identify foreign objects. The X-ray produces a grayscale image, with bones appearing white or light-gray and soft tissue and air a much darker shade.
X-rays are some of the most common diagnostic imaging techniques used in the treatment of injury and disease. Different kinds of radiography include fluoroscopy, mammography and computed tomography. X-rays tend to be a better option for examining the lungs for the presence of foreign bodies and disease.

Common Types of X-ray Exams

X-ray technology is highly adaptable and can be quite effective in helping to diagnose disease or injury, depending on which part of your body is being scanned. The following are the most common types of X-ray exams:

  • Bone X-rays are recommended for viewing the skeletal system. This simple imaging procedure, which uses a very small dose of ionizing radiation, aids doctors in diagnosing fractured bones or joint dislocation. Bone X-rays can help guide faster and less-invasive treatment for injuries.
  • Chest X-rays are commonly used to evaluate the lungs, heart and chest wall. This procedure can help your provider evaluate symptoms such as shortness of breath, persistent cough, fever and chest pain. Chest X-rays are also used to diagnose a variety of lung conditions, including pneumonia, emphysema and cancer, monitor the effectiveness of treatments and for quick and accurate diagnoses in emergency trauma care.
  • Abdominal X-rays are used to evaluate the stomach, liver, intestines and spleen and can help doctors diagnose the root cause of symptoms like unexplained pain, nausea or vomiting. A more specialized version of abdominal X-rays, called KUB X-rays, are used to examine the kidneys, ureters and bladder.
  • Upper GI X-rays use a form of real-time X-ray imaging called fluoroscopy to examine the upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Prior to, or during an upper GI X-ray, a barium-based contrast liquid is consumed to help produce images of your esophagus, stomach and small intestine. This type of X-ray exam is safe, noninvasive and can be used to help accurately diagnose the cause of digestive symptoms such as pain, acid reflux and more.
  • Lower GI X-rays are almost identical to Upper GI X-rays in their application and function and help doctors to detect disease and abnormalities in your digestive system that cause symptoms like pain, constipation or blood in the stool. A Lower GI X-ray will often provide specialists with enough information to avoid more invasive procedures like a colonoscopy.

Which Procedures Use X-rays?

According to the FDA, X-rays are often used where a static diagnostic image is sufficient:

  • Dental examinations
  • Verification of correct placement of surgical markers prior to invasive procedures
  • Mammography
  • Orthopedic evaluations
  • Chiropractic examinations

X-Ray Risks

Because X-rays use radiation that can pass through the human body, some of this radiation is absorbed as it passes through. The amount absorbed depends on the density of the part of your body undergoing the X-ray exam. For example, highly dense structures such as bones absorb much more radiation than soft tissues, like organs and muscle.
While an X-ray exam is a relatively common procedure, a few risks associated with exposure to ionizing radiation (according to the FDA) include:

  • A small increase in your chance of developing cancer later in life
  • Injuries to your skin and underlying tissues, such as cataracts, skin reddening and hair loss (these tend to occur mostly at higher levels of radiation exposure and are rare for many types of imaging exams)
  • Possible allergic reactions associated with intravenously injected contrast agents used to improve X-ray visualization

Statistically, your individual risk for side effects from X-rays is very low. The benefit of X-ray exams deemed medically appropriate, i.e., potentially lifesaving, far outweighs the small risk of radiation exposure.

Doctor with female patient discussing x-rayWhat to Expect from an X-ray Exam

If your doctor has ordered an X-ray exam and you are unsure of what to expect, the staff at each of our imaging centers can answer your questions about preparation, what to expect during the exam and when you can expect your results. You should also ask your referring physician for more specific information before undergoing any medical procedure. In fact, at Memorial Hermann, an order from your healthcare provider is required to schedule an appointment for an X-ray.

Preparation

In most cases, little to no preparation is needed for a standard X-ray. You may be given a contrast agent orally or intravenously to help illuminate certain areas during the exam. All of this will be communicated to you ahead of time by our imaging center staff.
If you are concerned about the risks associated with ionizing radiation, you should speak with your referring physician about the benefits and risks of recommended imaging procedures such as X-rays. The FDA suggests some sample questions to help start this discussion:

  • How will the results of the exam be used to evaluate my condition or guide my treatment (or that of my child)?
  • Are there alternative options for imaging that do not use ionizing radiation?
  • Does the imaging facility use techniques to reduce radiation exposure, especially to sensitive populations such as children?

What to Expect During An X-ray Exam?

Upon your arrival at a Memorial Hermann Imaging Center, you will be greeted by a friendly staff member at the front desk. They will walk you through the check-in process and help you complete routine billing paperwork in the business office. An imaging technologist will then come to collect you from the waiting room and bring you to a private exam room. The technologist will review your information with you, explain how the exam works and answer any of your preliminary questions.
Depending on the type of X-ray exam and part of body being imaged, you may be asked to undress and put on a hospital gown before the procedure begins. If an extremity is being scanned, this step may not be necessary. Either way, we do recommend wearing comfortable clothing and removing jewelry, piercings and other metal objects that may interfere with the exam.
During the exam, the imaging technologist will have you stand, sit on a chair or lie on a table to place your body in the optimal position for the exam. Let the technologist know if you are unable to comply with their requests or if you feel discomfort. In some cases, a lead apron is supplied to cover the pelvic area or breasts to help protect against unnecessary radiation exposure.
The technologist will aim a tube (a camera that produces X-rays) at the area of your body being scanned and will then walk behind a wall or into the next room to activate the X-ray machine. You will be asked to hold very still, and perhaps to hold your breath, for a few seconds to reduce the possibility of a blurred image.

How Long Does an X-ray Exam Take?

We understand how important your time is, so we do our best to make sure each exam is quick and thorough. A standard X-ray exam will take approximately five to ten minutes, but other specialized exams may last up to an hour, especially if you are given a contrast solution that must be partially digested before scanning.

When Can I Expect My Results?

Images from your exam will be sent for immediate analysis to a partnering radiologist. Once they have interpreted the images, a full report will be sent to your primary care physician. This process usually takes one to three business days. Your doctor will schedule a follow-up appointment with you to go over the results.

Benefits of X-Ray Over Other Imaging Modalities

X-rays are often used in tandem with other imaging technologies, like computed tomography (CT) and MRI, to provide a more thorough diagnosis. In some instances, however, X-rays are a safer or more effective alternative to these techniques.

X-ray vs. CT Scan

Computed tomography (CT) also uses ionizing radiation to capture images of the body’s interior. The main difference between a CT scan and an X-ray is the amount of radiation used. Where an X-ray exposes you to radiation for just a fraction of a second, CT scans are made up of multiple X-ray images stitched together electronically. This means that CT scans can often provide a clearer picture of what is going on inside your body. However, CT scans generally expose patients to more ionizing radiation than conventional X-rays.

X-ray vs. MRI

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) does not use ionizing radiation to capture images. Instead, it uses magnetic fields and a sophisticated computational system to create high-resolution, cross-sectional images of interior structures in the body. Unlike X-ray or ultrasound, MRI can image bones and soft tissues.
There are, however, some downsides to MRIs, including:

  • MRIs involve complicated equipment and are generally more expensive than other imaging techniques.
  • If you have a pacemaker, insulin pump and other implanted metal objects, you cannot receive MRI screening due to the danger of high-powered magnetic fields.
  • MRIs require you to stay perfectly still while suspended within a cramped metal tube, which can be difficult and stressful for young children and those with claustrophobia.

Professional X-Ray Exams a Memorial Hermann Imaging Centers in Houston

Memorial Hermann Imaging Centers offer X-ray exams at more than a dozen locations throughout Greater Houston. To schedule an X-ray exam at any of our Houston-area locations, call (877) 704-8700, or schedule an appointment online, 24/7, using our ScheduleNow tool.