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What an X-ray Can Reveal About Your Heart 

What an X-ray Can Reveal About Your Heart 

As a full-service family medicine and urgent care practice with a walk-in clinic, on-site lab, and in-house diagnostic imaging services, American River Urgent Care in Orangevale, California, is well-equipped to provide prompt medical care for patients in the Sacramento County area with pressing health concerns — every day of the week. 

We may recommend a chest X-ray when you arrive at our walk-in clinic with complaints like:

By giving our team a quick and easy way to see the internal structures of your upper body — including your heart and chest wall, blood vessels, lungs, airways, and bones — a chest X-ray can help us get to the bottom of your symptoms without delay. Then we can make an accurate diagnosis and provide the immediate care you need to feel better. 

Let’s take a closer look at what a chest X-ray can (and can’t) reveal about your heart. 

X-rays capture images of internal structures

A chest X-ray is a quick and painless diagnostic test that uses focused beams of low-dose radiation (electromagnetic energy) to create images of the tissues and structures inside your upper body. Traveling at a higher frequency than the wavelengths of visible light energy, electromagnetic energy can pass through most objects, including your body.  

To produce X-ray images (digital radiographs) of your chest cavity, we position your upper body between the X-ray source and the X-ray detector. When we activate the system, its focused beams of electromagnetic energy pass into your body, where they’re absorbed to varying degrees by the different tissue types in your chest cavity.      

Tissues that absorb electromagnetic energy the most (like your bones) create a high contrast image that appears white on a digital X-ray. Fluids and soft tissues (i.e., fat, muscles, organs) absorb less energy, so they produce lower contrast imaging that shows up as various shades of gray. The air in your lungs appears black. 

What an X-ray can tell us about your heart

A chest X-ray provides images of your chest wall, lungs, heart, large arteries, diaphragm, and ribs. When we use these images to evaluate your heart, specifically, we can see its location, size, and shape. This information can tell us if you have: 

A chest X-ray also reveals key information about your lungs, including whether there’s fluid around them. Fluid buildup around the lungs — especially when it accompanies an enlarged heart — is another sign of congestive heart failure.  

What an X-ray can’t reveal about your heart

Often, a chest X-ray is the fastest way to check the structures of your heart and lungs in order to zero in on the most likely cause of your chest pain, breathing difficulties, or apparent circulation problems — as we simultaneously rule out other potential causes. For example, chest pain can be a sign of: 

Basically, X-ray imaging allows us to examine the structural integrity of your heart and lungs to determine whether there are any abnormalities, including inflammation and fluid buildup. This helps us identify or rule out other possible causes of chest pain, shortness of breath, and fluid buildup in the lungs, including lung problems like pneumonia or emphysema.

A chest X-ray doesn’t reveal the internal structures of your heart (i.e., valves, chambers, inner walls), just the muscular organ’s external characteristics. This means that while we can detect signs of cardiomegaly or heart failure with an X-ray, we can’t see inside your heart to find out what’s causing it.

What we can do, however, is refer you to a cardiologist who will use other forms of diagnostic exams (i.e., heart MRI, EKG testing, cardiac CT scan) to arrive at a more precise diagnosis and targeted treatment plan.  

Quality urgent care every day of the week

Think you might need a chest X-ray? American River Urgent Care can help. Stop by our walk-in clinic in Orangevale, California, today — we’re open from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm every weekday, and from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm on weekends. You can also call our office or click online to book an appointment at your convenience any time.

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