X-rays use invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs. Standard X-rays are performed for many reasons, most commonly for diagnosing bone injuries.

X-rays are made by using external radiation to produce images of the body, its organs, and other internal structures for diagnostic purposes. X-rays pass through body structures onto specially-treated plates (similar to camera film) or digital media and a ‘negative’ type picture is made (the more solid a structure is, the whiter it appears on the film).

When the body undergoes X-rays, different parts of the body allow varying amounts of the X-ray beams to pass through. The soft tissues in the body (such as blood, skin, fat, and muscle) allow most of the X-ray to pass through and appear dark grey on the film or digital media. A bone or a tumour, which is denser than the soft tissues, allows few of the X-rays to pass through and appears white on the X-ray. At a break in a bone, the X-ray beam passes through the broken area and appears as a dark line in the white bone. Not all dark lines are fractures though; this is where the expertise of our specially trained Radiographers and Doctors is used to tell the difference between “normal” appearances or not.

Risks of X-rays

Simple radiographs (the image that X-rays produce), such as a chest X-ray involve extremely low amounts of radiation. That means that the exposure to radiation is so small that the risk of any damage to cells in your body is very low. However, if you’re pregnant or suspect that you may be pregnant, tell the Radiographer before having the X-ray. The risk of most diagnostic X-rays to an unborn baby is small.

To give you an idea of the risk, a common example is that having a chest or ankle X-ray (for example) is about the same as four days average background radiation. Everyone gets exposed to background radiation every day, from the earth, the food we eat, building materials and natural surroundings like earth and rocks and from the sun. The amount of background radiation is different throughout the UK. On average it amounts to an effective dose of about 2.3mSv per year, but varies. For example the background radiation dose in London is also about 2.3mSv per year, whereas in Cornwall, the background radiation dose is about 7mSv per year.

You should not worry about the radiation from the X-ray as the person who has requested it feels there is a need to investigate a potential problem; so the risk of not having the investigation could be greater. Our Radiographers undergo years of training to ensure they know the correct exposures to give.

What to expect

Your X-ray will be performed by a friendly George Eliot Radiographer. Sometimes, we help train student Radiographers on rotation from Birmingham/Coventry University, so your examination might be carried out by a student. Students are always monitored and working closely with a Radiographer at the time. If you would prefer not to be examined by a student, please let them or the Radiographer know.

You may be asked to change into a hospital gown. This is because certain types of clothing can show up on X-rays and might hide or mimic potential fractures/pathologies.

There are many different types of X-ray examination and depending on your particular examination, you may be asked to remove certain items of clothing and jewellery.

The Radiographer will introduce themselves and will ask you to confirm some details, including your name, birth date and address. You will also be asked what seem like very obvious questions, but accidents in the past have helped all Radiographers learn that these details need to be checked. So we will also ask you what you’ve come for, what body part is being looked at and what you might have done to injury yourself if necessary.

You will be asked to move into different positions in order to take the X-rays. Sometimes this can be uncomfortable but we will always do things to get the right balance between your comfort and getting useful X-rays to help treat you.

You won’t feel anything when the picture is being taken. There is no special X-ray beam to see.


After the examination, you can dress (if you were changed into a gown) and leave the department. The results of your examination may not be given to you on the same day. To receive these results you will need an appointment see either the Consultant who referred you, or your own GP. You will be told after the examination by the Radiographer how to get your results.

GEH 642 21-24 July 2021