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