A chest x-ray is an x-ray of the chest, lungs, heart, large arteries, ribs, and diaphragm.
How the Test is Performed
You stand in front of the x-ray machine. You will be told to hold your breath when the x-ray is taken.
Two images are usually taken. You will first need to stand facing the machine, and then sideways.
How to Prepare for the Test
Tell the health care provider if you are pregnant. Chest x-rays are generally not done during pregnancy, and special precautions are taken if they are needed.
How the Test will Feel
There is no discomfort. The film plate may feel cold.
Why the Test is Performed
Your provider may order a chest x-ray if you have any of the following symptoms:
- A persistent cough
- Chest pain from a chest injury (with a possible rib fracture or lung complication) or from heart problems
- Coughing up blood
- Difficulty breathing
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A serial chest x-ray is one that is repeated. It may be done to monitor changes found on a past chest x-ray.
What Abnormal Results Mean
Abnormal results may be due to many things, including:
In the lungs:
- Collapsed lung
- Collection of fluid around the lung
- Lung tumor (noncancerous or cancerous)
- Malformation of the blood vessels
- Scarring of lung tissue
In the heart:
- Problems with the size or shape of the heart
- Problems with the position and shape of the large arteries
- Evidence of heart failure
In the bones:
There is low radiation exposure. X-rays are monitored and regulated to provide the minimum amount of radiation exposure needed to produce the image. Most experts feel that the benefits outweigh the risks. Pregnant women and children are more sensitive to the risks of x-rays.
Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, MHS, Paul F. Harron Jr. Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
Chernecky CC, Berger BJ. Chest radiography (chest x-ray, CXR) - diagnostic norm. In: Chernecky CC, Berger BJ, eds. Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures. 6th ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:327-328.
Felker GM, Teerlink JR. Diagnosis and management of acute heart failure. In: Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann DL, Tomaselli GF, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 24.
Gotway MB, Panse PM, Gruden JF, Elicker BM. Thoracic radiology: noninvasive diagnostic imaging. In: Broaddus VC, Mason RJ, Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 18.