Are medical X-rays dangerous?

Have you been invited for a medical X-ray and want to know if there are any dangers? Maybe you have heard x-rays can be dangerous and want the truth? Finding out about X-rays can be tricky, with many conflicting responses online, but it doesn’t need to be. 

Before you head to your Radiology clinic, let us provide the answers for you! Today's guide shows you the possible dangers associated with medical X-rays and everything else you need to know. 

What is a medical X-ray?

A medical X-ray is a common procedure used to generate images of the inside of your body. They are typically used to spot breaks or bone fractures, helping your doctor create the right treatment plan for your injury. 

A medical X-ray involves you being positioned between an X-ray source and a detector. When the machine is turned on, X-rays travel through your body and are absorbed by tissues, depending on the radiological density. An image will then be generated, which your doctor can use to diagnose you. 

X-rays are commonly used for bone breaks and fractures, as mammography, and as part of radiation cancer treatment. Medical X-rays are also used as part of CT  and fluoroscopy tests, along with traditional radiography X-rays, which spot broken bones. 

Are medical X-rays dangerous?

Generally, the amount of radiation in an X-ray is not dangerous. It is equivalent to between a few days and years of exposure to natural radiation found in the environment. However, this can seem scary, which is often why patients are concerned about medical X-rays. 

X-rays are designed to focus a low level of ration to the one part of your body for less than a second, reducing the exposure and keeping the risk of any dangers low. However, there is a small risk that the radiation you are exposed to can lead you to develop cancer years after the X-ray has been taken. The risk is less than 1%, with the benefits of an X-ray outweighing the negatives. 

We have listed the amount of radiation your X-ray is equivalent to below. This is the amount of radiation that you would encounter on a daily basis and should put your mind at ease: 

  • Chest X-ray - 2.4 days of natural background radiation 
  • Skull X-ray- 12 days of natural background radiation 
  • Lumbar spine X-ray - 182 days of natural background radiation
  • IV urogram X-ray - 1 year of natural background radiation
  • Upper gastrointestinal X-ray - 2 years of natural background radiation
  • Barium enema - 2.7 years of natural background radiation 
  • CT head - 243 days of natural background radiation 
  • CT abdomen - 2.7 years of background radiation 

These figures apply to adults having a medical X-ray. While they can seem high, you will only be briefly exposed to the radiation, and it is no higher than the amount you would experience in a few days or years of normal background radiation. Your doctor will likely explain this to you before the X-ray to further alleviate any stress

Are there any side effects of X-Rays?

Some people will also experience short-term side effects after an x-ray. These are not common, but some patients report the following: 

  • Vomiting 
  • Bleeding 
  • Fainting 
  • Loss of hair or skin 

You should speak to your doctor if you experience any of these side effects after your X-ray and monitor them over the next day or so. 

X-rays do offer a slightly increased risk of cancer, as we mentioned earlier, but this is considered a shallow risk and X-rays are deemed a safe procedure across the world. 

What are the benefits of a medical X-ray?

There are a few benefits to having a medical X-ray, including its quick diagnosis and non-invasive design. We have outlined the benefits with some brief details below: 

  • They are non-invasive - allowing doctors to diagnose and treat you without physically examining or entering your body 
  • They offer guidance - which helps medical professionals insert stents, catheters, or other devices 
  • They help spot tumours and clots - which can help doctors treat you quickly 
  • They can pick up unexpected issues - infections on the bone, gas or fluid in areas, or types of tumours can be spotted 

Final thoughts 

Medical X-rays have become a vital part of patient care, helping medical professionals diagnose breaks, confirm fluid or gas in lungs and other parts of the body, and even insert catheters and other items. While there is a minimal risk of cancer, X-rays are considered safe and allow doctors to provide you with the care you need quickly. 

The part of the body that contains the stomach, intestines, liver, gallbladder and other organs. Full medical glossary
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The use of an image intensifier and TV monitor to view X-ray images. Full medical glossary
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relating to the intestines, the digestive tract between the stomach and the anus Full medical glossary
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Energy in the form of waves or particles, including radio waves, X-rays and gamma rays. Full medical glossary
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