Kids Health Info

X-ray

  • X-rays are a form of radiation that are able to pass through the body to create a digital X-ray image. Different parts of the body contain different tissues, which vary in how much X-rays they absorb (depending on how dense they are). When the X-rays pass through the body, bones, soft tissues and air can be seen on the X-ray images in white, shades of grey and black.

    Having an X-ray does not hurt, but in some cases, the position your child needs to be in for the X-ray may be uncomfortable. Your child will need to be still while the X-ray image is being taken.

    Why does my child need an X-ray?

    X-rays are performed for many different reasons, including to:

    • see if different organs in the body are healthy
    • check for fractures or broken bones
    • diagnose, treat and manage diseases
    • check the location of swallowed foreign bodies (e.g. if your child has swallowed a coin).

    What to expect with an X-ray

    Preparing for the X-ray

    Your child may be asked to change into a hospital gown before the X-ray. If they would prefer not to wear the hospital gown, wearing a plain T-shirt and shorts or leggings may be OK. Jewellery and some articles of clothing may have to be removed if they have decoration, metal, glitter, thick elastic, string ties or plastic that may show up on the X-ray images and make important body structures difficult to see.

    Patients who use a wheelchair may need to be moved onto a special chair during X-ray to prevent the metal parts of the wheelchair showing up on the image.

    Long hair should be tied up for neck and chest examinations, and nappies will be removed for all hip and pelvis examinations.

    During the X-ray

    For all examinations, a family member or carer is encouraged to stay with your child to help them feel comfortable about the procedure and to help them to keep still for their X-ray. However, if the carer is pregnant, they may be asked to leave the room.

    The time it takes to perform the X-ray examination depends on how many images are required, but it may be as little as five minutes.

    The requirements for your child's X-ray will depend on the body part that is being examined:

    • Chest X-ray: generally involves taking one picture. If possible, your child will be imaged sitting or standing.
    • Abdominal X-ray: generally involves one or two pictures. Usually the child lies on an X-ray table, however, some X-rays are taken with the child in a sitting or standing position.
    • X-rays of limbs (e.g. forearm, elbow, knee, ankle): will require pictures of the relevant area in two or more positions, depending on the reasons for the X-ray.
    • Skull X-ray: up to four different views are usually taken. Parents or carers will need to help hold the head very still.  Sometimes foam blocks are used.
    • Skeletal survey: this involves multiple X-rays of various areas of the body, therefore the length of this procedure ranges from 20 minutes to an hour.

    After the X-ray

    Your child will be able to go home straight after their X-ray.

    The radiologist will make a report on the X-rays and send it to the referring doctor. In non-urgent cases, it may take a few days for the results to reach the referring doctor. In urgent cases, it is possible for the doctor to request the results immediately.

    Key points to remember

    • X-rays pass through different tissues in the body to create an image.
    • Having an X-ray does not hurt, but your child will need to remain still while the image is being taken.
    • A family member or carer is encouraged to stay with the child during their X-ray; however, if they are pregnant they may need to leave the room.

    For more information

    Common questions our doctors are asked

    My child is scared about medical procedures and I am worried he won't stay still for the X-ray. How can I help?

    Show your child our Be Positive videos of children having X-ray scans at The Royal Children's Hospital (RCH). It will help him to know what to expect. You can also download our Okee in Medical Imaging app, which includes games and information especially designed to help children feel more comfortable about having medical imaging done at the RCH, and includes fun training on how to keep still. To get some ideas of how to talk to your child about the X-ray before you come to hospital, see our fact sheet Reducing your child's discomfort during procedures.

    Will I need to wear a lead apron during my child's X-ray?

    If you are required to calm your child during their X-ray, or hold them in a specific position, you will be offered to wear a heavy apron made of lead, to minimise your own radiation exposure. It is very important that you tell the radiographer if you are – or may be – pregnant.

    How safe are X-rays for children? If my child needs more than one X-ray is this dangerous?

    Radiation exists everywhere in the environment. X-rays involve more radiation than other types of scans, like an MRI, but all efforts are made to use the lowest possible dose, for the shortest possible time.

    Why did staff ask if my 12-year-old daughter could be pregnant?

    We understand this is a sensitive, and sometimes shocking, question to have your child asked. The RCH follows the advice of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, which recommends asking the pregnancy status of female patients who are of childbearing age and undergoing imaging that includes the uterus (e.g. X-rays of abdomen, pelvis, lumbar spine). This is to make sure that any possible unborn babies are not exposed to a unsafe radiation dose.

    Children vary greatly in their development, and some preteen females are developed enough that they could become pregnant. To make sure it doesn't appear to be a judgement on the individual, the RCH has made it a rule to ask any female aged 12 and over whether they could be pregnant. We do our best to approach the question sensitively and are always happy to answer further questions from parents or patients.


    Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Medical Imaging department. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.

    Reviewed October 2018.

    Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit www.rchfoundation.org.au.


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Disclaimer
This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.