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X-rays are particles of electromagnetic radiation. They are used to show doctors what is going on inside your body. An x-ray machine sends out invisible x-ray particles, which pass through your bones. A computer or special film records this and produces pictures of what is happening inside you for your doctor to see.
How are they done?
A film, similar to those used in ordinary photos, is put behind the part of your body that is having the x-ray. The x-ray machine then shoots out a short burst of x-ray particles through your body and onto the film. You should stay as still as you can when the x-ray beam shoots, to make sure that the picture isn't blurred. The film is then developed.
The more x-rays that hit the film, the blacker it is when it is developed. Dense parts of your body block lots of the x-rays from getting through to the film, so they show up white, like your bones, for example. The parts of your body that are hollow or filled with air, like parts of your lungs, show up black. Soft tissues, like your muscles and organs, are grey. The shade of grey depends on how dense they are, so the more dense the body part is, the lighter the shade of grey it will be.
What do they show?
X-rays can give your doctors information about lots of different things that are going on in your body. For example, they can show breaks and other problems in your bones, as well as some problems with your joints. X-rays can also show the size and shape of your heart, so they can detect some heart conditions.
An x-ray can be all that is needed to diagnose a problem or see how bad it is. Sometimes though, the doctors need to do more detailed x-rays, called CT scans, or do MRI before they can tell you exactly what's wrong. You will often need CT or MRI if the part of your body being looked at is soft tissue, or organs like your brain or liver.
Are they safe?
There is very little risk with having one x-ray, because the dose of radiation you are given is always the lowest one possible that the doctor needs to get a good picture.
Do they hurt?
X-rays are totally painless. You can't see or feel them!
What happens next?
The developed film is studied by a radiologist - a special type of doctor who is an x-ray expert. The radiologist will make a report and send it to the doctor who asked for the x-ray to be done, and he or she will then discuss the results with you.
What if I have any more questions?
If you have any other questions, you can ask your doctor, or chat to other people about x-rays in the Medikidz forums and virtual world, Mediland.