X-ray technology uses a specific type of highly controlled radiation to create images that show the interior structures of the body. Bones are the most readily apparent structures that x-ray imaging can show, and physicians utilize x-rays in the earliest stages of treating serious physical trauma. An image is created when an x-ray machine directs short bursts of radiation through the human body and onto a sheet of film. The more dense tissue within the body (such as bones) block more of the x-rays, which then show up as light or white areas on the film. That allows technicians to “see” inside of the body without the need for an invasive surgical procedure. Broken bones, dislocated joints and changes in organ tissue are just some of the conditions that an x-ray can show.
Many people are concerned about being exposed to radiation during the x-ray imaging process. Since an individual will be exposed to very small volumes of radiation during an x-ray, the risk of harm is minimal. Technicians use the lowest possible level of radiation needed to produce a useful image. In addition, x-rays are ordered only when necessary to reduce the total amount of x-ray radiation that an individual will be exposed to during the course of his or her life. When viewed in relation to the benefits that this imaging technology provides, the risks are often viewed as minuscule.
In the urgent care setting, having an x-ray done is often an initial step in creating a treatment plan. Once the medical staff is able to view the completed image (which is a relatively fast process), the next steps are determined. If a complicated fracture is discovered, then the patient may be referred to a nearby emergency room. However, many lesser sprains or fractures can be addressed in the urgent care setting. In the case of enlarged organs, x-rays give physicians important information about what further diagnostic tests to perform.
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