Reasons You May Need an X-ray

Every year around 70% of Americans have medical (or dental) X-rays, so there’s a pretty good chance you will need one eventually. Despite being such a commonly used diagnostic tool, X-rays aren’t fully understood, and many people are surprised when their healthcare provider orders an X-ray.

We offer in-office X-rays here at American River Urgent Care in Orangevale, California. Our team of dedicated healthcare professionals uses these imaging studies to diagnose and evaluate various injuries and illnesses. Over the years, we’ve answered quite a few questions about X-rays.

How an X-ray works

First things first — to help you understand the multitude of uses for X-rays, let’s review how they work. An X-ray machine includes an X-ray source and an X-ray detector. A patient is positioned between the two parts, and the source sends radiation through the patient’s body. 

The various types of tissue in your body absorb different amounts of radiation. For example, your bones absorb most of the radiation, while your air-filled lungs absorb very little. The detector picks up any of the radiation that passes the whole way through your body. That information translates into a picture of the inside of your body.

Since your bones absorb so much radiation, they appear white on the image, while your lungs look black. The image can show many abnormalities inside your body, from fractures to lung and bowel problems. 

Reasons you might need an X-ray

We use X-rays to collect information about the inside of your body and can evaluate and diagnose:


If you injure yourself while playing sports, in an automobile collision, or while you’re at work, an X-ray helps us diagnose the specific injury and evaluate its severity. For example, if you take a tumble on the soccer field and hurt your ankle, we need to know if you have a sprain or a fracture. 

Lung problems

As your lungs are typically filled with air and appear black on an X-ray, any abnormal tissue, including tumors or scar tissue from infections such as COVID-19, shows up in white and grey patches. 

Bowel problems

We can also use X-rays to identify blockages and problems in your gastrointestinal tract. For digestive tract X-rays, we give you barium, a substance that increases the visibility of issues in your esophagus, stomach, and large and small intestine. Barium absorbs radiation, so when your GI tract is clear, it appears white on the X-ray. However, any abnormalities are apparent with the contrast the barium provides. 

Heart conditions

X-rays also show the size and shape of your heart. We can determine if your heart is enlarged, a sign of heart failure or heart valve disorder. X-rays can also show calcium deposits which indicate constrictive pericarditis. 

Are X-rays safe?

Yes, X-rays are safe. They use a naturally occurring form of electromagnetic radiation that we’re all exposed to every day. The amount of radiation needed has always been small, and advances in medical technology have decreased the amount even more. Nonetheless, we always take steps to protect you and our team from unnecessary exposure. 

If you need expert, personalized urgent care, call our offices or schedule appointments online or use our walk-in clinic services today. 

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