Chest X-ray

Doctors use chest X-rays to examine issues of your lungs, heart, airways, blood vessels and bones. They can also show fluid in or around your lungs or air surrounding a lung. They can be used in emergency situations when trying to determine the cause of chest pain, or over long periods to track the progress of a health problem.

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Chest X-rays are very common and are often among the first tests you'll receive if you have heart or lung disease symptoms.

A chest X-ray can produce images to help a doctor "see" inside of you, including:

  • The condition of your lungs
  • Heart-related lung problems
  • The size and outline of your heart
  • Blood vessels
  • Calcium deposits
  • Fractures
  • Postoperative changes
  • A pacemaker, defibrillator or catheter

How long before I receive chest X-ray results?

X-rays are generally painless as you don't feel the radiation passing through you. At Mayo Clinic Healthcare located in London, you should receive the results within a couple hours.

To prepare for a chest X-ray, you will generally be asked to undress from the waist up, including jewelry, and put on an exam gown. A technician will position you between the machine that emits the X-rays and a plate that creates the image digitally or with X-ray film. Depending on your condition, you may have to have several X-rays taken from different positions, such as the front, side and back.

How do you read a chest X-ray?

A chest X-ray is basically a silhouette of your insides. As the X-rays pass through your body on their way to the plate on the other side, they are blocked by more dense tissue. The X-rays that pass through less dense tissue create dark spots on the plate. The areas on the plate that don't receive X-rays appear lighter, such as dense muscle tissue in the heart, or appear white, such as bones.

A doctor trained to interpret X-rays and other imaging exams (radiologist) will analyze your images, looking for clues that may suggest if you have heart failure, fluid around your heart, cancer, pneumonia or another condition. For instance, an X-ray for pneumonia would have an unusual grey in the lungs.

Mayo Clinic Healthcare will work with you to determine if a chest X-ray scan is appropriate to your needs.

Learn more about chest X-rays on MayoClinic.org