An X-ray is an imaging study that takes pictures of bones and soft tissues. X-rays use safe amounts of radiation to create these pictures. The images help healthcare providers diagnose a wide range of conditions and plan treatments. Usually, providers use X-rays to evaluate broken bones, dislocated joints and other bone injuries.

People of all ages, including babies, can get an X-ray. If there’s a chance you might be pregnant, tell your provider before getting an X-ray. Radiation from an X-ray can harm your fetus.

Your provider may order an X-ray to:

  • Check for a broken bone (fracture).
  • Identify the cause of symptoms, such as pain and swelling.
  • Look for foreign objects in your body.
  • Look for structural problems in your bones, joints or soft tissues.
  • Plan and evaluate treatments.
  • Provide routine screenings for cancer and other diseases.


Several types of X-rays take pictures of different areas inside your body. Some X-rays use contrast material (also known as dye) to make the images clearer. Some of the most common types of X-rays include:

  • Abdominal X-ray: This X-ray shows images of your kidneys, stomach, liver and bladder. It helps providers diagnose conditions like kidney stones and bladder stones. There are some special kinds of abdominal X-rays such as a barium enema that use special dyes (called contrast) to evaluate parts of the digestive system.
  • Bone X-ray: Your provider uses a bone X-ray study to see broken bones (fractures), dislocated joints and arthritis. Images from bone X-rays can also show signs of bone cancer or infection. A spine X-ray looks at the bones and tissues in the spine.
  • Chest X-rayThis test looks for abnormalities in the heart, lungs and bones in the chest like pneumonia.
  • Dental X-rayRegular dental X-rays allow your provider to evaluate your teeth and gums, look for infection and check for cavities.
  • FluoroscopyA fluoroscopy shows moving images of organs and soft tissues (such as your intestines). Your provider views your organs in motion on a screen (kind of like an X-ray movie). GI X-ray exams often use fluoroscopy.
  • CT scan (computed tomography): A radiology study that uses X-rays and a computer to create cross-section images of bones, organs and tissues. This is a donut-shaped machine that you slide through as it takes images.
  • MammogramProviders use mammograms to take X-ray pictures of breast tissue, evaluate breast lumps and diagnose breast cancer.

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