Chest X-rays are a common type of exam. A chest X-ray is often among the first procedures you'll undergo if your doctor suspects you have heart or lung disease. It can also be used to check how you are responding to treatment.
A chest X-ray can reveal many things inside your body, including:
- The condition of your lungs. Chest X-rays can detect cancer, infection or air collecting in the space around a lung (pneumothorax). They can also show chronic lung conditions, such as emphysema or cystic fibrosis, as well as complications related to these conditions.
- Heart-related lung problems. Chest X-rays can show changes or problems in your lungs that stem from heart problems. For instance, fluid in your lungs (pulmonary edema) can be a result of congestive heart failure.
- The size and outline of your heart. Changes in the size and shape of your heart may indicate heart failure, fluid around the heart (pericardial effusion) or heart valve problems.
- Blood vessels. Because the outlines of the large vessels near your heart — the aorta and pulmonary arteries and veins — are visible on X-rays, they may reveal aortic aneurysms, other blood vessel problems or congenital heart disease.
- Calcium deposits. Chest X-rays can detect the presence of calcium in your heart or blood vessels. Its presence may indicate damage to your heart valves, coronary arteries, heart muscle or the protective sac that surrounds the heart. Calcium deposits in your lungs are most often from an old, resolved infection.
- Fractures. Rib or spine fractures or other problems with bone may be seen on a chest X-ray.
- Postoperative changes. Chest X-rays are useful for monitoring your recovery after you've had surgery in your chest, such as on your heart, lungs or esophagus. Your doctor can look at any lines or tubes that were placed during surgery to check for air leaks and areas of fluid or air buildup.
- A pacemaker, defibrillator or catheter. Pacemakers and defibrillators have wires (leads) attached to your heart to make sure your heart rate and rhythm are normal. Catheters are small tubes used to deliver medications or for dialysis. A chest X-ray usually is taken after placement of such medical devices to make sure everything is positioned correctly.