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X-rays use a small amount of radiation to produce images of your tissues, bones and organs for diagnostic purposes. Different parts of the body allow varying amounts of X-ray beams to pass through. Your soft tissues allow most of the X-ray to pass through, while a bone or tumor—which is more dense than soft tissues—allows few of the X-rays through. This allows physicians to view a tumor or broken bone with the press of a button.

Why are X-rays performed?

A provider may order an X-ray for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Diagnosing tumors
  • Diagnosing bone or joint injuries
  • Diagnostic procedures, such as arteriograms, computed tomography (CT) scans and fluoroscopy
  • Monitor the progression of a disease, such as osteoporosis
  • Track the effectiveness of a treatment method
  • To rule out certain problems or determine the reason for pain

Radiation during pregnancy may lead to birth defects. Always tell your radiologist or doctor if you suspect you may be pregnant.

Contrast medication

Before some X-rays, you may be given contrast medication. This liquid helps outline a specific part of your body on the X-ray image. Contrast can be given in different ways. You may swallow it or receive it as an injection or an enema.

How are X-rays performed?

X-rays can be performed on an outpatient basis, or as part of inpatient care. Generally, an X-ray procedure follows this process:

  1. You are asked to remove any clothing or jewelry which might interfere with the exposure of the body area to be examined. You are given a gown to wear if clothing must be removed.
  2. You are positioned on an X-ray table so the part of the body that is to be X-rayed is between the X-ray machine and a cassette containing the X-ray film or specialized image plate. Some examinations may be performed while you are in a sitting or standing position.
  3. Body parts not being imaged may be covered with a lead apron to avoid exposure to the X-rays.
  4. The X-ray beam is focused on the area to be photographed.
  5. You must be very still or the image will be blurred.
  6. The technologist steps behind a protective window and the image is taken.
  7. Depending on the body part under study, various X-rays may be taken at different angles, such as a front and side view.
what to expect

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