A chest x-ray is a procedure where an image of the chest is taken using an x-ray machine. It offers some basic information regarding the state of the heart and the lungs and is a commonly performed test in all patients who suffer from a cough, chest pain and breathlessness.
How is it performed?
The procedure is fairly straightforward and involves a patient standing in front of an x-ray machine. Once the patient is in position, the x-ray machine is placed near the chest and an image is taken. This image projects onto an x-ray film which is then offered to the patient.
The procedure takes only a few minutes to perform and is relatively safe.
What information does it provide?
A chest x-ray helps visualise the ribs, lung fields, diaphragms and the heart. It provides information regarding the size of the heart, whether there is any fluid in the lungs and whether there are any fractures or other causes for the patient symptoms. In addition, any chest infections and pneumonias are clearly visible on x-ray and can help direct appropriate treatment.
Unfortunately, a chest x-ray only offers certain pieces of information and is not an exhaustive test in any sense. It is an excellent tool for monitoring patient’s progress when they are in hospital, particularly if they are suffering from heart failure and have accumulated fluid in the lungs, or if they have recently suffered a pneumonia or tuberculosis and have been treated for it. However, it does not offer any information regarding the function of the heart as such and neither does it inform the doctor regarding the state of the heart valves.
Despite its limitations, the chest x-ray is still a very useful test when it comes to initial assessment of patients.