What is a chest X-ray?
A chest X-ray is a picture of your child’s chest showing the heart and lungs. We take the picture using a small amount of radiation.
Why are chest X-rays done?
With an X-ray, your child’s care team can see if your child’s heart or lungs look normal. A chest X-ray can be useful in diagnosing:
- An enlarged heart
- Excess fluid around the heart
- Excess fluid in the lungs
- Lung problems such as pneumonia, lung cancer, tuberculosis or other lung diseases
Chest X-rays may also be used to check the position of devices such as a pacemaker, defibrillator or catheter.
How do chest X-rays work?
An X-ray machine sends out very tiny particles called photons that pass through the body. They are picked up by a sensitive film or imaging plate. We use the lowest possible amount (dose) of radiation while still making the picture clear. Things that are dense, like bones, will block most of the photons and appear white on the film. Tissues that are less dense appear darker. This includes muscle, blood, skin and fat.
Smaller bodies often need less radiation to get a good image. The dose of radiation varies with each patient and type of exam. Our team uses your child’s age and weight to set the dosage. The radiation doses we give at Seattle Children’s are consistently lower than the American College of Radiology guidelines. (Learn more in our radiation exposure handout [PDF]. Also available in Amharic, Arabic, Russian, Simplified Chinese and Spanish.)
What happens during a chest X-ray?
You and your child will go to our Radiology Department. Your child will wear a hospital gown. We will ask them to stand or sit in front of the machine (if they can) and hold their breath when we take the X-ray. Usually, we take 2 X-ray views: 1 from the front and 1 from the side.
The radiology team at Seattle Children’s has the training and experience to lower your child’s stress before, during and after tests. They will keep your child calm using methods like distraction that match your child’s age and development.
Having an X-ray is as painless as taking a picture. It will not poke or hurt your child.
How long does a chest X-ray take?
A chest X-ray takes about 5 minutes. A radiologist will read the results. A radiologist is a doctor who interprets the medical images and works with your child’s heart doctor (cardiologist).
Providers, see how to refer a patient.