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  • X-rays use small amounts of radiation to make pictures of the inside of your child’s body. X-rays are used to help diagnose many diseases and problems.
  • Ask your provider how long it will take to recover and how to take care of your child at home.
  • Make sure you know what symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if your child has them.


What are X-rays?

An X-ray is the use of energy called radiation to make pictures of the inside of your child’s body. As the X-rays pass through the body, different tissues absorb different amounts of radiation and show up in different shades of black and white on film or a computer screen. For example, the calcium in bones and teeth absorbs X-rays the most and makes the bones or teeth look white. Lungs are full of air, which absorbs X-rays the least, so the lungs look black. Fat and other tissues show up in various shades of gray.

When are they used?

X-rays are used to help diagnose many diseases and problems. They can show problems like broken bones, dislocated joints, tumors, or cavities in your teeth. Muscles, brain and blood vessels cannot be seen well with plain X-rays. Dyes or computers may be used with X-rays to see these tissues.

How do I prepare my child for an X-ray exam?

Your child may need to remove jewelry, eyeglasses, and anything else with metal if it is near the part of the body being X-rayed. Because metal shows up on X-rays, it might get in the way of what your child’s provider is trying to see.

Tell the provider if your child has had any kidney problems or reactions to foods or chemicals, such as X-ray contrast dye. Contrast dye is used for some X-rays.

There are no other special preparations for most X-ray exams. If your child is having an exam that requires preparation, your child’s provider will give you instructions.

What happens during the exam?

X-rays may be done in a healthcare provider’s office, imaging center, or hospital.

Usually your child undresses to expose the area being examined. He may sit or lie down on a table. Your child needs to get into a position that gives a clear view of the part of his body being examined. Pillows or foam pads may be used to help your child lie in the correct position. The X-ray technologist may cover parts of your child’s body with lead aprons to protect those areas from radiation, such as the reproductive organs.

For some X-rays, contrast dye may be needed to help show the part of the body being filmed. Contrast dye may be given in different ways. It may be:

  • Injected into a vein
  • Given as a chalky liquid that your child drinks
  • Given into your child’s rectum as an enema

The dye may make your child feel warm. His face may get flushed and he may get a headache or have a salty taste in his mouth. In rare cases, the dye can cause nausea and vomiting.

The X-ray technologist will put the X-ray machine in the proper position. The technologist will leave the room or go behind a protective screen or wall to take the X-ray image.

It takes only a second for a simple X-ray film to be taken (like taking a photo). Your child may need to hold his breath or stay still while the X-ray picture is being taken. Several films may be taken for different views.

Having an X-ray is usually painless. However, it might cause some pain if your child has to be in an uncomfortable position while the X-ray is being taken.

After the X-ray films are taken, they must be developed. The development takes just a few minutes. The X-ray technologist will check the images to make sure no other pictures need to be taken before you leave.

After the technologist has checked the films, a healthcare provider or a radiologist will look at the pictures and interpret them. Radiologists are doctors who have special training in reading X-ray films and other types of images.

What are the risks of an X-ray exam?

Every procedure or treatment has risks. Some possible risks of an X-ray exam include:

  • In rare cases your child may have an allergic reaction to dyes used during the exam.
  • The radiation your child gets from an X-ray may cause a small increase in his lifetime risk of developing cancer. Modern equipment produces high-quality images using the lowest possible amount of radiation. It’s a good idea to keep track of how many X-ray exams your child has and when he has them.

Ask your healthcare provider how these risks apply to you. Be sure to discuss any other questions or concerns that you may have.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.3 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2015-02-17
Last reviewed: 2015-02-17
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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