A chest x-ray is an x-ray of the chest, lungs, heart, large arteries, ribs, and diaphragm.
Chest radiography; Serial chest x-ray; X-ray - chest
How the Test is Performed
You stand in front of the x-ray machine. You will be told to hold your breath when the x-ray is taken.
Two images are usually taken. You will first need to stand facing the machine, and then sideways.
How to Prepare for the Test
Tell the health care provider if you are pregnant. Chest x-rays are generally not done during the first 6 months of pregnancy.
How the Test will Feel
There is no discomfort. The film plate may feel cold.
Why the Test is Performed
Your doctor may order a chest x-ray if you have any of the following symptoms:
- A persistent cough
- Chest pain from a chest injury (with a possible rib fracture or lung complication) or from heart problems
- Coughing up blood
- Difficulty breathing
A serial chest x-ray is one that is repeated. It may be done to monitor changes found on a past chest x-ray.
What Abnormal Results Mean
Abnormal results may be due to many things, including:
In the lungs:
- Collapsed lung
- Collection of fluid around the lung
- Lung tumor (noncancerous or cancerous)
- Malformation of the blood vessels
- Scarring of lung tissue
In the heart:
- Problems with the size or shape of the heart
- Problems with the position and shape of the large arteries
In the bones:
There is low radiation exposure. X-rays are monitored and regulated to provide the minimum amount of radiation exposure needed to produce the image. Most experts feel that the benefits outweigh the risks. Pregnant women and children are more sensitive to the risks of x-rays.
Gotway MB, Elicker BM. Radiographic techniques. In: Mason RJ, Broaddus CV, Martin TR, et al., eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2010:chap 19.
Stark P. Imaging in pulmonary disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 84.
Reviewed By: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.