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The Most Frequently Asked X-Ray Questions


Crystal Duplisea, Natasha Smith, Cassandra Brown, Sarah Lamb, and Fadia Hamdan, fourth year students at the Saint John School of Radiological Technology at Horizon's Saint John Regional Hospital

Horizon's Diagnostic Imaging departments are committed to providing care to patients by delivering appropriate and accurate imaging tests.

As student Medical Radiation Technologists (MRTs) we want to give patients the best experience possible. This means answering any questions our patients ask us about the procedures we perform.

Let's look at some of the most commonly asked questions we are asked.

Q: Why are X-rays used if they could be harmful?

A: This is such a common and important question!

Let's take it way back …

Before the discovery of X-rays in 1895, physicians often had to perform surgery to determine what was wrong with their patients.

And this was before antibiotics and proper sterilization techniques, so the rate of survival from abdominal surgery was approximately 50 per cent, due to infection! So much unnecessary risk.

Enter the X-ray.

X-ray imaging is non-invasive and minimizes or eliminates the need for risky exploratory surgery, which quickly revolutionized how medical diagnoses are made.

The MRT make an assessment to determine if the benefit of diagnosis outweighs any potential risks.

In fact, the risk of harm is so low that the benefits almost always outweigh the risks.

Did You Know? Statistically, there is a much greater chance of being injured in a car accident driving to an X-ray appointment than being harmed from X-ray exposure!

Q: How many X-rays are too many?

A: The chance of harm from receiving an X-ray is minimal.

When a physician prescribes a diagnostic imaging test for you, they have determined the benefit of your having the X-ray outweighs any potential harm.

There has never been a set parameter as to how many X-ray or CT examinations are allowed. Your MRT also reviews your history to help ensure the most appropriate radiographic images will be obtained.

Q: Why do I have to wear a gown?

A:  Clothing can contain items made of substances that will show up in X-ray images, such as buttons or zippers. These are known artifacts that could possibly obscure anatomy or pathology in the area of interest. When this happens, images must be repeated with the artifact moved out of the way, causing additional unnecessary exposure to radiation.

To prevent having to redo an image, we will ask you to remove specific items of clothing for your exam, depending on what part of your body will be X-rayed.

A gown made of a uniform radiolucent material (which means it appears transparent in X-rays) is provided so you can remain covered and comfortable during your exam.

Don't worry - lockers and change rooms are available!

Q: Why do MRTs ask if there is any chance of pregnancy before performing an X-ray?

A:  Although extremely unlikely, the radiation dose received during abdominal X-rays may potentially produce harmful chromosomal changes in the DNA of an embryo or fetus.

The first trimester is the most sensitive period for a fetus, due to the large number of radiosensitive stem cells present. Extra precautions are taken during the first trimester to protect the unborn fetus from any harmful effects.

For example, a patient may be asked to lie on their stomach for an abdominal X-ray since the muscles of the back can act as a barrier between the X-ray beam and the fetus.

Learn more in this Health Canada publication.

We hope that these answers help explain why certain things are required for your exam!

If you have more questions, please ask your MRT. We want to ensure you have best experience possible.

The Moncton Hospital School of Radiologic Technology and Saint John School of Radiological Technology partner with the University of New Brunswick Saint John (UNBSJ) to deliver a 4-year Bachelor of Health Sciences in Radiography. Graduates of the program become a radiological (X-ray) technologists.



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