Thursday, April 24, 2014

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X-Ray and Fluoroscopy

X-rays are high-energy electromagnetic waves, similar to light and radio, but at a much higher frequency.  They are able to penetrate solid matter, and are recorded either on film (similar to old-fashioned camera film) or an electronic detector.  In general, the denser something is, the more X-rays are blocked and the darker that part of the image is.  Fluoroscopy is a moving picture taken using X-rays.

X-rays are frequently used examine to examine the bony parts of the body, but they are also used to examine other parts.  Mammograms, which are used to detect breast cancer, are a specialized form of X-ray.  Fluoroscopy is often used to examine the digestive tract in conjunction with a barium solution.  The barium absorbs the X-rays and makes it easier for the radiologist to visualize detail.  Fluoroscopy is also used for arthrograms, which are studies of joints, and myelograms, which are studies of the spine.

X-rays have several advantages, and a few disadvantages.  They require a very short exposure time, and this makes it easy to get good images when the subject has a hard time holding still; this is often very handy with children.  The total time for the procedure is also very quick compared to most other diagnostic imaging techniques.  X-ray studies tend to be inexpensive compared to MRI and CT scans, as well.  

One of their biggest disadvantages is that X-rays are ‘ionizing radiation,’ and in high doses can cause cell damage that might lead to cancer.  Because of this, we always use the smallest amount of radiation necessary to get a good quality image.  A simple chest X-ray exposes a person to about the same amount of radiation as you would normally get from normal background radiation in about 2 weeks, so the risk is very low, but we always try to minimize your exposure as much as possible.

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