Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School
Doctors have used x-rays for over a century to see inside the body in order to diagnose a variety of problems, including cancer, fractures, and pneumonia. During this test, you usually stand in front of a photographic plate while a machine sends x-rays, a type of radiation, through your body. Originally, a photograph of internal structures was produced on film; nowadays, the image created by the x-rays goes directly into a computer. Dense structures, such as bone, appear white on the x-ray films because they absorb many of the x-ray beams and block them from reaching the plate. Hollow body parts, such as lungs, appear dark because x-rays pass through them.
Back x-rays and chest x-rays are among the most common conventional x-ray tests. You should not have an x-ray if you're pregnant unless the risk is considered and special precautions are taken, because radiation can be harmful to a developing fetus.
A chest x-ray provides black-and-white images of your lungs, ribs, heart, and diaphragm.