What happens during a chest x-ray?

Dr. John C. Lipman, MD
Vascular & Interventional Radiologist

A chest x-ray is a radiology exam which takes an x-ray picture of the contents of your chest. It shows the radiologist the structures inside the chest including the skin, bones, lungs, heart and large blood vessels.

A chest x-ray may be performed on an outpatient basis or as part of your stay in a hospital. Procedures may vary depending on your condition and your physician's practices.

Generally, a chest x-ray follows this process:

  1. You will be asked to remove any clothing, jewelry or other objects that may interfere with the procedure.
  2. You will be given a gown to wear.
  3. The particular view that the physician orders will determine how you are positioned for the x-ray such as lying, sitting or standing. You will be positioned carefully so that the desired view of the chest is obtained. The physician will also specify the number of films to be made.
  4. For a standing or sitting film, you will stand or sit in front of the x-ray plate. You will be asked to roll your shoulders forward, take in a deep breath and hold it until the x-ray exposure is made. For patients who are unable to hold their breath, the radiologic technologist will take the picture at the appropriate time by watching the breathing pattern.
  5. It will be important for you to remain still during the exposure, as any movement will blur the film.
  6. For a side-angle view of the chest, you will be asked to turn to your side and raise your arms above your head. You will be instructed to take in a deep breath and hold it as the x-ray exposure is made.
  7. The radiologic technologist will step behind a protective window while the images are being made.

While the x-ray procedure itself causes no pain, the manipulation of the body part being examined may cause some discomfort or pain, particularly in the case of a recent injury or invasive procedure such as surgery. The radiologic technologist will use all possible comfort measures and complete the procedure as quickly as possible to minimize any discomfort or pain.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.