A chest X-ray, also called a chest radiography, is one of the methods used to diagnose pulmonary fibrosis (PF), a condition characterized by the thickening, stiffening, and scarring of the lung tissue. The tissue damage reduces oxygen supply to the brain and other vital organs, causing serious complications such as respiratory failure, pulmonary hypertension, heart failure, or pneumonia.
What is a chest X-ray?
A chest X-ray is a rapid and painless imaging method that generates an image of the chest structures including the heart, lungs, ribs, and diaphragm.
X-rays, a type of radiation (or electromagnetic waves) invisible to the naked eye, pass through the body to create an image on the detector when the energy from the rays is absorbed at different rates by different body structures. Dense body structures such as bone appear as clear white areas on the image, while light or soft structures such as the heart and lungs appear as dark areas.
X-rays to help diagnose PF
A chest X-ray is recommended if the patient has symptoms such as a persistent cough, chest pain, blood-mixed phlegm, difficulty breathing, or a persistent fever.
The image generated by the chest X-ray may present shadows, which indicate scar tissue. This allows the physician to diagnose the possibility of pulmonary fibrosis. Sometimes chest X-rays may not show any scars, so further tests are required to confirm the illness.
How is the X-ray done?
The X-ray is performed at medical facilities such as clinics or hospitals, or in a doctor’s office. The patient is required to change into a gown and remove any jewelry or other objects that may interfere with the imaging. A lead-lined apron is recommended to protect the reproductive organs from the noninvasive test.
The patient is asked to hold their breath while the imaging is performed. An experienced technician performs the imaging with two views: one from the front and another from the side of the chest. More views may also be taken. A radiologist analyzes the images and sends the report to the doctor.
The radiation used for X-ray imaging is very low (similar to the amount of radiation one would naturally get from the environment over 10 days) and is unlikely to cause any harm. However, pregnant women are not recommended to get X-rays, especially during the first six months of pregnancy, unless there is an urgent reason. Children are also more sensitive to X-rays.
Pulmonary fibrosis (PF) can be difficult to diagnose since its symptoms are similar to those of other lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). To rule out the possibility of other conditions, doctors generally recommend multiple tests along with a chest X-ray, including a medical exam, a breathing test, blood tests, computerized tomography (CT) scan, bronchoscopy, and a lung biopsy.
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