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Updated on December 29, 2015
Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen
Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen | Source
X-Ray machine
X-Ray machine | Source
Chest X-Ray
Chest X-Ray | Source
X-Ray applications
X-Ray applications | Source

Most of the people must have come across the term 'X-Ray'. They may not be aware of its exact nature and what is it used for? What are precautions to be taken while using an X-Ray? What are the risk factors hidden behind using an X-ray?


X-Rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation or wave of high energy and very short wavelength which is capable of passing through many materials opaque to light. It is a machine that sends individual x-ray particles through the body. They often pass through skin and soft tissue but it will not smoothly pass through bone or metal. X-Rays are produced when the electrons collide the atoms and nuclei of the metal target.

Discovery of X-Ray:

A German physicist named Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen invented X-Rays in the year 1895 at the University of Wurzburg , Germany. He discovered X-Rays while he was conducting an experiment with electron beams in a gas discharge tube. He observed that a vivid light began to glow when the tube was turned on.

Properties of X-Ray:

  1. X-Rays have a very short wavelength
  2. They produce ionization ( process by which electrons are added or removed in atoms and molecules)
  3. It upsets the photographic film turning it black.
  4. They are blocked by metal and bone.
  5. They pass through healthy body tissue.
  6. They travel in a straight line in free space.
  7. It cannot be targeted to a set point.
  8. It is not visible with our naked eye and cannot be heard or smelt.
  9. They cannot be reflected, refracted and deflected by magnetic or electric field.
  10. They exhibit properties of Interference, Diffraction and Refraction identical to Visible light.
  11. They don't require any medium for propagation.
  12. X-rays can infiltrate through solids, liquids and gases.
  13. They are absorbed by matter depending upon anatomic structure of the matter and wavelength of x-ray beam.
  14. X-rays are used for treating malignant lesion (a type of skin cancer)

Chest X-Ray Show:

It shows the structures in and around the chest. This test is conducted to search and track conditions of heart, lungs, bones or chest cavity. It helps in detecting diseases such as pneumonia, heart failure, lung cancer, lung tissue scarring, or Sarcoidosis. However this test have some limitations. It only shows the conditions that change the size of the tissue in the chest.

Medical Uses of X-Rays:

1. Radiographs: It is the process of examining or diagnosing a part of the body by the means of X-rays and record the findings when exposed to photographic film. It is very effective in detecting pathology of the skeletal system as well as for diagnosing diseases present in the soft tissue. For example--Chest X-Ray can be used to detect lung diseases such as pneumonia, lung cancer and pulmonary edema. Pathology such as Kidney stones, Gallstones which are not often visible can be detected via X-Ray. Dental Radiography is typically used to diagnose dental problems such as cavities.

2. Computed tomography: In other words CT Scanning is a radiography in which three-dimensional figure of the body structure is designed by the computer from a series of plane cross-sectional images formed along an axis. It is mainly used for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes.

3. Fluoroscopy: It is a study to capture images of a moving body. An X-Ray beam is passed through the internal structures of a patient. The beam is transmitted to an X-Ray image intensifier and CCD Video camera to record the images and played on the monitor. For example, cardiac catheterization is used to determine coronary artery blockages and barium swallow to detect esophageal disorders.

4. Radiotherapy: Radiotherapy also known as Radiation therapy is a treatment to kill the cancer cells by radiation. It is used in treating skin cancers and cancers present within the body such as brain, lung, prostate, and breast.

X-rays are also used for the following purposes:

  • Canned goods and packaged products are scrutinized through x-rays.
  • They are used to analyze paint pigments and other substances.
  • Technicians make use of X-Rays to analyze petroleum products and metal alloys.
  • Customs officers and airport security personnel utilize x-rays to inspect luggage and packages for weapons or smuggled articles.

Harmful Side-effects of X-Rays:

  1. Risk of cancer rises when a child is still in the mother's womb are exposed to X-Rays. Various types of cancers like tumors of the nervous system increases by 50% and leukemia's by 70%.
  2. When X-Rays are radiated on head, neck, shoulder and upper chest, the thyroid glands will be severely damaged.
  3. Multiple X-rays are associated with multiple myeloma(a type of bone marrow cancer).
  4. X-Radiation of the lower abdominal region develops genetic damage which may pass on to the next generation and increases chances of common aging diseases such as high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, strokes and cataracts.
  5. Each year at least 4000 Americans succumb to X-Ray related illness.


  • Most efficient way to reduce exposure to harmful radiations is to replace old x-ray machines with the new ones because the radiation emitted by the old x-ray machines are 20-30 times higher than the new ones. The best way is to avoid getting those unnecessary x-rays done.
  • Pediatric patients must take special care before proceeding with X-Ray imaging exams.
  • Special care should be given to imaging pregnant women's because the unborn child will be exposed to the effects of radiation exposure.


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