Chest Radiography

X-ray beams are passed through the chest, producing images of the internal structures on a special type of film. This basic imaging test is often part of the initial evaluation in people being assessed for lung or heart disorders.

Purpose of the Chest X-ray

  • To detect and evaluate abnormalities in the lungs, including pneumonia; pneumothorax (leakage of air outside the lungs and into the pleural cavity, resulting in a collapsed lung); and tumors
  • To provide an initial assessment of the size of the heart
  • To locate fluid accumulation in the lung or pleural space (the space between the lung and chest wall)
  • To detect fractures of bones in the chest
  • To locate foreign bodies (such as coins or small objects) that may have been swallowed
  • To screen for lung diseases in apparently healthy individuals who have been exposed to environmental toxins such as asbestos
  • To aid in the placement of devices for other tests, such as a pulmonary artery catheter
  • To help diagnose symptoms such as shortness of breath, a bad or persistent cough, chest pain or injury and fever
  • To help diagnose or monitor treatment for conditions such as pneumonia, heart failure and other heart problems, emphysema, lung cancer, line and tube placement and other medical conditions

Who Performs Chest X-ray

  • An x-ray technician

Special Concerns about Chest X-ray

  • In general, pregnant women should not undergo this test because exposure to ionizing radiation may harm the fetus. If the test is deemed necessary, a lead apron should be placed over the woman’s abdomen to shield the fetus.
  • Obesity and scarring from previous lung diseases or chest surgery may make interpretation of x-ray films difficult.
  • To prevent radiation-related problems, a lead shield may be placed over the ovaries in women or testicles in men.

Before the Chest X-ray

  • You may be asked to disrobe and wear a hospital gown during the exam.
  • Remove any metal objects, including watches, hair clips, and jewelry.
  • Tell your doctor whether you’re pregnant or may be pregnant.

What You Experience

  • You will be positioned, either sitting, standing, or lying down, in front of an x-ray machine.
  • You are asked to take a deep breath and hold it while the x-ray is being taken, in order to provide a clear view of the chest. It is important to remain still throughout the procedure because any motion can distort the image. Several views may be taken.
  • The test generally takes 10 to 15 minutes.

Risks and Complications of Chest X-ray

  • This test involves minimal radiation exposure.

After the Chest X-ray

  • No special aftercare is needed.

Chest X-ray Results

  • The doctor will examine the x-ray films for any evidence of heart or lung disease or other abnormalities.
  • If a definitive diagnosis can be made based on the images, appropriate treatment will be initiated.
  • In many cases, additional tests, such as a chest MRI, a chest CT scan, or a lung biopsy, may be required for further evaluation.


The Johns Hopkins Consumer Guide to Medical Tests

Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D., Medical Editor

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 04 Jan 2012

Last Modified: 04 Jan 2012