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Chest X-Ray - Uses, Procedure, Advantages, and Limitations

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Chest X-rays are used as a diagnostic measure. Read the article below to learn about the uses and limitations of X-rays.

Written by

Dr. Saberitha

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Varun Chaudhry

Published At October 20, 2022
Reviewed AtMay 24, 2023


Chest X-rays are used in diagnosing systemic conditions. With the help of X-rays, doctors can suspect diseases in vital organs like the heart and lungs, hard structures like ribs and the spine, and soft tissues like blood vessels. Before taking other scans, medical professionals prefer X-rays as an interpreting diagnostic tool. An X-ray is produced by radiation at a particular frequency.

What Are the Uses of Chest X-Rays?

  • Pleural Effusion - The pool of fluid collected in the chest cavity is revealed with the help of X-rays. This condition is called pleural effusion.

  • Cardiomyopathy - The size, shape, and structure of the organs, like the heart and lungs, are observed. Because any alteration in the structure of these organs in the X-rays shows the initial signs of lung or heart disease; for example, cardiomyopathy is a condition in which the heart size is enlarged.

  • Restrictive Lung Disease - The location of the lungs in the chest cavity behind the ribs is carefully monitored using X-rays by medical professionals. The constriction or stiffness of the lungs can be determined using X-rays. The condition is called restrictive lung disease.

  • Aneurysm - Main arteries like the aorta and pulmonary arteries are important for the blood flow to the organs like the heart and lungs. Any abnormality or inflammation in the blood vessels can be noticed using X-rays. This condition is called an aneurysm.

  • Fracture in Ribs - Motorcycle accidents, injuries during paragliding, and mountain climbing can fracture the ribs. These fractures can be interpreted in chest X-rays.

  • Postoperative Use of an X-Ray - It is useful to track lung or heart diseases and to diagnose whether the body responds well to the treatment procedure performed earlier.

  • Calcifications - The calcium deposits in the heart valves or blood vessels damage the heart and reduces its pumping efficiency. These calcific nodules present over the heart tissue can be identified with chest X-rays.

  • Hernia - The position of the diaphragm is analyzed using X-rays. If there is a displacement of the diaphragm, it indicates a sign of a hernia.

  • Tumor - The abnormal growth of tissues in the airways and lungs is called lung cancer. The tumor is diagnosed using X-rays.

  • Medical Devices - The pacemakers are connected to the heart to regulate the heart rate. The patient undergoing dialysis has a flexible tube called a catheter attached to them for distributing the medicines. The position of the medical devices like pacemakers and catheters are reviewed by the medical professionals using chest X-rays after placement.

  • Surgery - During the insertion of the needle in the thoracentesis procedure or during the drainage of air or fluid with a tube insertion in pneumothorax, X-rays are used to identify the position of the tools during the surgery.

What Are the Limitations of Using a Chest X-Ray?

  • X-rays must be taken only on the advice of medical professionals. The patient may be exposed to radiation, so take X-rays only if it is essential.

  • Chest X-rays cover only the upper part of the body. Though the radiation of chest X-rays is low, pregnant patients must not be exposed to X-rays because X-rays may affect the development of the fetus.

  • If a series of X-rays are taken to monitor the symptoms, the patient will be continuously exposed to the radiation. It may affect patients with weak immune systems.

  • Continuous exposure to the X-rays may damage the reproductive mechanism because the radiations affect the nature of sperm in males and eggs in females.

What Are the Instructions to Follow During an X-Ray Imaging?

  • Remove the metallic things like watches and gold ornaments as they remain as a hindrance for the X-rays to pass through the body.

  • The patients are advised to wear a green or blue gown given in the hospital while imaging because this thin gown allows the rays to pass through the hard and soft tissue of the body easily.

  • The patient must wear a protective covering for other structures to avoid exposure. For example, the abdomen can be protected from X-rays using a lead apron.

What Are the Advantages of a Chest X-Ray?

  • It is cost-effective compared to other diagnostic methods like CT (computed tomography) scans and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans.

  • Patients with pacemakers are contraindicated from taking an MRI scan due to the magnetic field. In that case, X-rays can be used.

  • The radiation level of CT scans and MRIs is comparatively higher than the radiation level of X-rays.

  • The patient who has done surgery might have discomfort standing for a longer period. Since X-rays take only three to five minutes, it is a comfortable and quick procedure.

How Is the Chest X-Ray Procedure Performed?

  • A consent form must be signed by the patient before imaging the chest X-rays. Read the complete form and sign it appropriately.

  • There are no restrictions on eating or drinking for imaging chest X-rays. Also, the patient need not stop the blood-thinning medications.

  • Chest X-ray imaging can be performed in a sitting or standing position. The patient is positioned before an X-ray plate.

  • After taking a deep breath, the shoulders must be pushed forward. It is held in the same position until the X-rays are imaged. Listen to the instructions of the operator carefully. The operator will stand behind the wooden wall during imaging.

  • Inform the operator if the patient is unable to hold his breath for a longer period.

  • Standing still is very important during X-ray imaging because motion affects the quality of the image.

  • During imaging of the side angle of the chest, the patient is asked to turn sideways with the hands lifted above the head for a clear image.


Chest X-rays are taken before the surgery involving the chest cavity. It is also used to observe the prognosis of the condition after the surgery. So a series of X-rays are taken periodically to monitor the symptoms of the systemic conditions. Chest X-rays are simple procedures that do not require any sedation. No additional care is required after the X-ray imaging.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Are the Findings of a Chest X-Ray?

A chest X-ray shows damage in the lungs, such as infections (pneumonia, tuberculosis), lung cancer, fluid accumulation (pulmonary edema), collapsed lung (pneumothorax), or lung diseases (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease - COPD). It can show the size, shape, and position of the heart, as well as signs of heart-related problems like heart failure, enlarged heart, or fluid around the heart. Chest X-rays can detect fractures, dislocations, or other bone abnormalities in the chest area, including the ribs, collarbone, or spine.


Does One Need to Remove Clothes for a Chest X-Ray?

Yes, typically, one will be asked to remove the clothes from the waist up for a chest X-ray. This allows the X-ray machine to capture clear images of the chest area without any interference from clothing or accessories. Wearing a hospital gown or provided coverings may be necessary to ensure that no objects obstruct the X-ray images.


Can Chest X-rays Detect Heart Problems?

Chest X-rays can provide valuable information about heart problems and help in the diagnosis and evaluation of various cardiac conditions. While they do not provide a detailed assessment of the heart itself, they can reveal certain signs and abnormalities that may indicate heart-related issues.


What Is a Three-View Chest X-Ray?

A three-view chest X-ray refers to a specific technique used to obtain three different X-ray images of the chest from different angles. These three views provide a more comprehensive assessment of the structures within the chest, including the lungs, heart, bones, and surrounding tissues. The three standard views typically obtained in a three-view chest X-ray are the posteroanterior (PA) view, lateral view, and anteroposterior (AP) view.


Can Gastritis Cause Chest Pain?

Yes, gastritis can cause chest pain. Gastritis occurs when the stomach lining is inflamed, and when it occurs, it can produce a variety of symptoms, including chest pain. The chest pain associated with gastritis is typically characterized as a burning sensation in the upper abdomen or lower chest. The pain can sometimes radiate to the chest area, leading to confusion with chest pain of cardiac origin.


How Many X-Rays Are Safe in a Day?

The number of X-rays considered safe in a day depends on various factors, including the type of X-ray examination, the area of the body being imaged, the reason for the X-ray, and the individual's specific circumstances. Radiation exposure from X-rays is generally considered to be safe within certain limits. The dose of radiation received from a typical X-ray examination is relatively low and is generally well below the threshold for causing immediate harm. The benefits of the diagnostic information obtained from X-rays often outweigh the potential risks associated with radiation exposure.


Why Is a Chest X-Ray Necessary for Diagnosing Heart Failure?

A chest X-ray is a valuable diagnostic tool in evaluating heart failure because it provides important information about the heart and lungs, both of which are affected by this condition. Heart failure can cause the heart to enlarge (cardiomegaly) due to the heart muscle's weakened pumping ability. A chest X-ray can reveal the size and shape of the heart, allowing healthcare professionals to assess if it is enlarged. A chest X-ray can show signs of pulmonary congestion, which is fluid accumulation in the lungs, such as increased density or a "fluid-filled" appearance in the lung fields.


What Are the Side Effects of an X-Ray?

X-rays involve exposure to ionizing radiation. While the radiation dose from a single X-ray examination is usually low, repeated or cumulative exposure to radiation over time can increase the potential risk. Some people may have an allergic reaction to the contrast dye used in certain types of X-ray procedures, such as intravenous pyelogram (IVP) or angiography. It can range from mild to severe, including rash, itching, difficulty breathing, or anaphylaxis.


Is a Chest X-ray Safe?

The radiation dose received during a typical chest X-ray is relatively low, and the exposure is generally well below levels known to cause immediate harm. During a chest X-ray, healthcare providers take necessary measures to protect patients from unwanted radiation exposure. They may use lead shields or aprons to protect areas of the body that are not being imaged. For pregnant women, additional precautions are taken to minimize radiation exposure to the developing fetus.
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Dr. Varun Chaudhry



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