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A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): A.D.A.M.; 2013.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

Chest x-ray

Chest radiography; Serial chest x-ray; X-ray - chest

Last reviewed: September 1, 2012.

A chest x-ray is an x-ray of the chest, lungs, heart, large arteries, ribs, and diaphragm.

How the test is performed

You stand in front of the x-ray machine. You will be told to hold your breath when the x-ray is taken.

Two images are usually taken. You will need to stand against the machine, and then sideways.

How to prepare for the test

Tell the health care provider if you are pregnant. Chest x-rays are generally not done during the first 6 months of pregnancy.

How the test will feel

There is no discomfort. The film plate may feel cold.

Why the test is performed

Your doctor may order a chest x-ray if you have any of the following symptoms:

It may also be done if you have signs of tuberculosis, lung cancer, or other chest or lung disease.

A serial chest x-ray is one that is repeated. It may be done to look at or monitor changes found on a previous chest x-ray.

What abnormal results mean

Abnormal results may be due to many things, including:

In the lungs:

In the heart:

  • Problems with the size or shape of the heart
  • Problems with the position and shape of the large arteries

In the bones:

Abnormal results may also be due to:

What the risks are

There is low radiation exposure. X-rays are monitored and regulated to provide the minimum amount of radiation exposure needed to produce the image. Most experts feel that the risk is very low compared with the benefits. Pregnant women and children are more sensitive to the risks of x-rays.


  1. Gotway MB, Elicker BM. Radiographic techniques. In: Mason RJ, Broaddus CV, Martin TR, et al. Murray & Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 19.
  2. Stark P. Imaging in pulmonary disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 84.

Review Date: 9/1/2012.

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What works?

  • Chest X‐rays in acute chest infectionsChest X‐rays in acute chest infections
    Acute chest infections (lower respiratory tract infections) such as pneumonia, bronchitis and bronchiolitis are a major cause of deaths worldwide and expected to be amongst the leading four causes of death by 2030. The most affected population groups are children under 59 months and adults over 50 years of age. Patients with chest infections often have a fever, cough, shortness of breath and phlegm production. A chest X‐ray is commonly used to help diagnose and manage chest infections and is widely used in high‐income countries. However, the impact of chest X‐rays in terms of how they may change patient recovery in suspected chest infection has not been evaluated. We focused on whether the use of chest X‐rays compared to not using them led to improved outcomes such as a faster recovery rate, less time in hospital and fewer complications for the patient. We did not investigate the use of chest X‐rays as a tool in the diagnosis of chest infections or the differences in the interpretation of X‐rays between doctors.
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