Using X-Rays in the Diagnostic Process

shutterstock_121061860

Since x-ray machines were first invented in 1895, they have allowed doctors to diagnose and treat patients with a level of precision that was previously impossible. Military doctors were some of the first to start using x-ray machines, and found them invaluable for locating and removing bullets and shrapnel from wounded soldiers. Today, radiographic images continue as a crucial component of many diagnostic processes, particularly in cases requiring immediate treatment, like broken bones and pneumonia.

How Do X-Ray Machines Work?

To put it in very basic terms, x-ray machines use beams of electromagnetic energy to look inside the body. These rays pass through soft tissue, but are absorbed by dense material like bone. The way the rays are absorbed creates “shadows” that can be captured by the machine and displayed or printed for the doctor, allowing them to see inside the patient’s body without cutting them open. The more radiation is absorbed, the whiter the material will look on an x-ray image. Bones appear white, while soft tissue register in shades of grey and black because they absorb little radiation.

In urgent situations, x-ray machines can save lives by allowing practitioners to quickly and accurately see if a bone is broken, if the lungs are filling with fluid, or if the brain is swelling, just to name a few examples. X-rays are painless, quick, and precise, making them an ideal diagnostic tool.

X-Ray’s for Diagnosing Bone Fractures

In cases of minor fractures, it can be difficult to tell if a bone is broken or the area is simply sprained or painful for another reason. Looking at the area with an x-ray machine allows doctors to definitively tell if a fracture is present when the external evidence is not so clear. In many cases, hairline fractures can be difficult to diagnose without an x-ray machine. In cases of compound fractures (obvious breaks where the bone sometimes protrudes from the skin), x-rays show any small splinters of bone that need to be put back into place.

X-rays give doctors a detailed picture of the bone so it can be set back into the proper place quickly and allowing healing to begin. An improperly set bone that heals out of place can lead to years of pain and disability, and will need to be rebroken and set again to heal correctly. The use of radiographic images makes it much easier to set the bone correctly the first time and avoid this difficult and painful process. If a patient is admitted with a suspected fracture, an x-ray will show where and how severe the fracture is, allowing the doctor to treat it quickly, correctly, and completely. Once the bone is set, another x-ray may be taken to confirm that the pieces of bone are in the right place.

There is no special preparation necessary for undergoing a bone x-ray. Patients must remove jewelry, glasses, and dental appliances that may interfere with the final results, and may be asked to remove some or all of their clothes and wear a gown. Women who are pregnant or who may possibly be pregnant should also inform their doctor to avoid exposing the fetus to radiation.

Soft Tissue Diagnostics and Pneumonia

Aside from the more obvious application of treating broken bones, x-rays are a valuable tool for diagnosing other serious conditions that need immediate treatment, including congestive heart failure, pneumonia, lung cancer, and acute bronchitis. Pneumonia often causes inflammation in the lungs and the development of fluid in the chest cavity. The patient’s lung may collapse, or they could develop an infection in the heart muscle or the sac surrounding the heart. Radiographic images from a chest x-ray will show all of these potential complications.

X-ray images can suggest whether the pneumonia is caused by a virus, bacteria, or fungus, although it is not always possible to make that distinction based on an x-ray. This is very important, because each situation would be treated differently. For example, if the patient has viral pneumonia, antibiotics would not be effective. Lab tests for pneumonia can take days to come back, and the longer the disease goes untreated, the worse it gets. Since many people who are diagnosed with pneumonia are also suffering from other serious medical conditions, there is usually no time to waste; x-rays allows doctors to determine much more quickly what method of treatment is best.

Reading a soft-tissue x-ray is something of an art, since the distinction between various soft tissues is less obvious than the difference between, say, muscle and bone. A skilled practitioner with experience reading soft-tissue x-rays can use detect inflammation, organ enlargement, fluid buildup, and difference in density and opacity that may indicate a tumor. If any of those problems are detected, time is of the essence; the doctor is now able to reach a diagnosis much faster thanks to radiographic imaging.

The Right Equipment for the Right Diagnoses

All-Star X-ray offers a full range of equipment and support services to help doctors provide the best care for their patients and stay on the cutting edge of emerging radiographic technology. Contact us today to learn more about our services and the products we offer.