What Is a Chest Radiograph?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 03 November 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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A chest radiograph is a medical imaging study of the chest made with the use of X-rays. It may also be called a chest X-ray. This is a noninvasive option for looking into the chest to identify possible causes for a patient’s symptoms, evaluate response to treatment, or follow-up with patients who have had chest problems in the past. The test does involve exposure to radiation, although doses are kept low do not typically pose pose a high risk to the patient.

Two different studies of the chest can be obtained with X-rays. One is an anterior-posterior chest radiograph, where the patient faces the equipment and it takes a picture from front to back. X-rays of patients can also be shot from the side. For the test, patients work with the technician to position themselves appropriately, dressing in a gown and removing all metal objects to avoid interference on the film.

Doctors can see the patient’s large arteries, diaphragm, ribs, heart, and lungs on a chest radiograph. They may request the test if a patient has a problem like chronic coughing, a heart murmur, or abnormal sounds in the lungs. By looking at the image, care providers can look for issues like fluid in or around the lungs, heart enlargement, or broken ribs. This can help guide diagnosis and treatment to ensure the patient receives appropriate care.


Other medical imaging studies can also provide insight into a patient’s chest health. These can include magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography scanning. Care providers may request additional testing if a patient’s chest radiograph shows signs of abnormalities that require closer evaluation. Real-time video imaging like fluoroscopy and ultrasound can be used to guide the care provider if the patient needs a procedure like a biopsy.

Risks associated with a chest radiograph are typically low. Patients who have received multiple x-ray studies in a short period of time could be at risk of exceeding the recommended dose of radiation, and might want to discuss this issue with their care providers to determine if they really need another x-ray. Pregnant patients may be advised to avoid testing unless it is absolutely necessary. If it is, shielding can be used to protect the developing fetus and the technician takes special care with positioning to avoid having to re-take a shot.

Patients are usually welcome to ask to see their chest radiographs if they are curious. A radiologist or care provider can discuss the findings and point to specific structures or areas of concern. Sometimes it can help to understand the images that informed diagnosis, and young patients may find them interesting.



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