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HOW DOES A CHEST X-RAY HELP DIAGNOSE BREATHING PROBLEMS?

Mayfair • Jul 13, 2021

If you were asked what you would see in an X-ray image, odds are you would say bones. And it’s true – X-ray imaging is very good at looking at your bones.

But interestingly, the most frequently performed X-ray exam is a chest X-ray. This exam may be ordered to look for rib fractures or other problems with bones in the chest, but it’s also frequently requested to look at the lungs and heart.

X-ray imaging uses a type of electromagnetic ionizing radiation to create images of your lungs, heart, and the bones of your chest and spine. A small amount of radiation is sent into the chest and different areas of the chest absorb this radiation at different rates, creating an images with various shades of grey. When filled with air, the lungs show up as darker areas while the heart and lung vessels will appear as lighter areas.

Different lung and heart pathologies can be determined by the radiologist depending on their appearance within the lungs. For example, infections in the lungs can show up as white patchy areas. A chest X-ray can help diagnose such lung concerns as:

  • Fluid in the lungs that might be the result of congestive heart failure.
  • Chronic lung conditions like emphysema or cystic fibrosis, and their complications.
  • Air collecting in the space around a lung, which could cause it to collapse.
  • Tumours in or near the lungs.
  • Lung infections like bronchitis (an infection in your bronchial tubes, which carry air to your lungs) or pneumonia (an infection in the tiny air sacs in your lungs, called alveoli).

WHEN WOULD A CHEST X-RAY BE ORDERED?

Your doctor might order a chest X-ray for a number of reasons, including:

  • To investigate chest pain, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing.
  • As part of medical screening programs for certain professions, such as firefighters.
  • To monitor the effects over time of chronic conditions like cystic fibrosis.
  • To check for heart or lung conditions that may complicate the procedure.
  • As a mandatory requirement from Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada. It’s used to check for indications of tuberculosis for anyone looking to immigrate into Canada.

WHAT HAPPENS DURING A CHEST X-RAY?

Mayfair Diagnostics performs about 40,000 chest X-rays each year. During this exam, you will be asked to change into a gown and to remove any metal objects, such as jewelry and clothes with metal buttons, zippers, or snaps. We may also ask you to tie up any long hair that may obstruct a clear view of the chest.

If you are a women between the ages of 11-55, you will be asked about the possibility of pregnancy prior to your exam, since X-rays use radiation. Lead shielding can also be provided to cover vulnerable areas.

One of our experienced technologists will help you move into different positions standing against an upright board. You will be asked to turn to the front and side and move your arms and shoulders into various positions. Our state-of-the-art imaging technology will take views of the front and side of your chest. You will also be required to take a deep breath and hold it for several seconds to help your heart and lungs show up more clearly. We need the lungs filled with air in order to assess them.

The X-ray itself is not painful, but holding a particular position may be uncomfortable if you are experiencing pain. Overall the exam may take about 15 minutes, although once in the X-ray room the process typically takes less than five minutes.

HOW DO YOU GET A CHEST X-RAY?

Once your doctor has identified the need for an exam, you will be given a requisition form. X-rays are offered in the community on a walk-in basis at any medical imaging clinic, including 11 Mayfair Diagnostics locations in Calgary and one in Regina. Appointments are not required for general X-ray procedures; simply bring your form with you.

Your X-ray images will be reviewed by a specialized radiologist who will compile a report that is sent to your doctor within 1-2 business days, sooner for urgent requests. Mayfair Diagnostics is owned and operated by over 60 radiologists who are fellowship-trained in many keys areas, such as neuroradiology, body, cardiac, musculoskeletal imaging, etc. This allows for an expert review of your imaging by the applicably trained radiologist.

Your images will also be uploaded to a provincial picture archiving and communication system (PACS) – this technology provides electronic storage and convenient access to your medical images from multiple sources, such as your doctor, specialists, hospitals, walk-in clinics, etc.

Please note, X-ray services are NOT offered at our Cochrane, Saskatoon, Southcentre, and Sunpark locations. Visit our locations page to view clinics near you.


REFERENCES

DerSarkissian, C. (2020) “Is It Bronchitis or Pneumonia?” www.webmd.com. Accessed July 13, 2021.

Healthwise Staff (2020) “Chest X-Ray.” www.myhealth.alberta.ca. Accessed July 13, 2021.

Mayo Clinic Staff (2021) “Chest X-rays.” www.mayoclinic.org. Accessed July 13, 2021.

Nabili, S. N. (2020) “What Does a Chest X-Ray Show?” www.medicinenet.com. Accessed July 13, 2021.

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