Medical professionals use x-rays to see what parts of your body are diseased or infected. By looking at an x-ray image through a computer, we can get very detailed pictures of internal organs and tissues.
By taking lots and lots of x-rays, doctors have learned a lot about how different areas in our bodies work. They use this information to help diagnose disease and/or determine if surgery is needed.
But there’s a big problem with traditional x-rays – they emit radiation that could potentially cause long term health issues. Fortunately, newer technology makes it possible to perform less damaging radiographs. These images are called digital radiology (DR) studies.
Fortunately, most dental offices now offer DR services. But what about other types of medical imaging?
In this article, you will learn all about how DR works, why it is important, and some tips for improving your radiological experience. So put on your diagnostic cap and read on!
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How Does A DR System Work?
A DR system consists of several components.
How x-rays are created
When you’re exposed to radiation, it can be damaging or helpful depending on what type of exposure you have and how much is given.
X rays are usually made by creating an electrical current in a vacuum via streamers, which then collide with electrons that are free for movement. This creates an even more focused beam of high energy light that can easily penetrate solid objects.
The intensity of this ray beam can be adjusted so that there is enough power to see through things but not powerful enough to cause any damage.
It was discovered around 1920 that these beams could also create a glow when they collided with other elements. These glows were determined to come from the atoms vibrating after being hit with such a strong amount of radiated energy.
These glows vary depending on the element struck as well as how many atomic bonds exist between each atom and its surrounding molecules. The intensity and number of colors produced depends on the thickness and density of the object scanned.
How x-rays are detected
When an x ray is directed at your body, it produces images of how much radioactivity it detects. These images can be photographed or computerized for analysis.
The amount and intensity of radiation you receive depends on several things, including:
How exposed you are to the rays
Whether the exposure was short (for example, if you use x rays to check for bone fractures) or long (if, for instance, you undergo dental work that requires x rays)
What kind of equipment you use (more powerful machines produce more intense exposures)
You may be able to reduce the level of exposure by using lower power settings on the machine
It’s important to note that there are safe levels of exposure to x rays depending on what you will do with them. But staying below these limits can still result in health risks.
Different types of x-rays
Medical professionals use several different types of x rays to evaluate patients for symptoms of disease or injury. These tests look at different parts of your body and require various amounts of time before they show clear pictures.
Computerized axial tomography (CAT) scans are one such test. They use advanced computer technology to create three-dimensional images that can be rotated, like an interactive picture book.
Conventional radiographs are another type of x ray used to assess bone and soft tissue. With this test, you simply expose the area being evaluated to a higher amount of radiation than with CAT scanners.
Radionuclide imaging is a relatively new way to perform testing. A radioactive material is injected into the blood stream and then tracked as it moves through the body using special equipment. The pattern and intensity of activity gives important information about organ function and health.
Health risks of radiation
Radiation can have serious health effects, even at very low levels. The amount of exposure needed to cause these harmful effects is called the dose threshold.
As we saw in the first section of this article series, x rays are a type of radionuclide that comes from an element with an atomic nucleus made of neutrons and protons. These neutrons and protons “radiate” energy as they decay, giving off gamma photons or ray bursts and some beta particles.
When you look through an analog camera exposed to visible light, electrons in the lens gain enough kinetic energy to jump between orbital positions around the atom’s nucleus. This causes the electron cloud to glow with intensity according to its original position. When these x-rays pass close to the sensor, their intensity is measured indirectly due to the effect they have on causing electrical currents in the film.
X-ray equipment operates at much higher voltages than ordinary cameras, but still only emits a minute fraction of the radioactivity found naturally occurring uranium. Even if exposures were extremely high, it has been shown that the average person would receive no more than the same lifetime risk for cancer from natural background radiation as getting hit by lightning once.
What is a safe limit for radiation?
Medical doctors use x-rays to look at internal organs and determine if there are health problems. The amount of exposure you get from an x-ray depends on two things: how long the image is, and how much exposure you get per minute while taking the picture.
The length of time it takes to take an x-ray exam usually does not pose too many risks unless you are exposed to very high doses for a longer period of time. Health professionals typically do not worry about just short exposures because the effects tend to be minimal or even helpful.
However, prolonged exposure to low levels of radiation can have harmful results. This is why government agencies recommend that patients review x-ray film before leaving the clinic so they can avoid exposing themselves to more radiation by staying off mobile devices with backpacks after their visit.
By reducing your exposure now, you can prevent the future exposure from becoming a serious health concern.
X-ray equipment can be dangerous
An x-ray machine uses radiation to create an image of your body part or whole body you want examined. These images are very valuable, as they provide detail about internal organs and bones in your body.
However, most x-rays have enough radiation to expose people to unsafe levels for less than one minute. Some small parts of your body require more exposure time than that!
This is why it is important to remain calm during an exam and not touch the x-ray equipment or yourself while it is running.
Never use the same tool twice unless it has been put away and erased. Never re-use an x-ray film unless it has been properly stored and protected from light.
It may take hours or days depending on how much tissue there is to view and what kind of diagnostic work needs to be done. So, remember to give yourself extra time and keep track of how many films there are so you do not run out!
Experts agree that the average person should never undergo radiographic (x-ray) testing without first establishing a baseline. This means taking an initial picture before any medical tests or procedures to determine if your health changes after this test.
It is also important to know that even having a few minutes of direct sun exposure can cause a false positive result on some radiological exams.
Keep your equipment up to date
It is important to understand that not all x-ray machines are equal! Some use higher intensity radiation or shorter exposure times than others to produce similar results.
Some studies show that one brand of machine may be more effective than another, but this doesn’t mean you should go out and buy one of those brands!
Instead, make sure to only purchase radiology approved diagnostic tools. This includes having an appropriate amount of safety gear such as glasses, hats, and gloves before undergoing any testing.
Don’t use older models of technology because newer ones may be less efficient. As mentioned earlier, different manufacturers use different settings so it would be hard to know which one works best unless you have access to other types.
We recommend staying within budget since these tests can cost around $50–$100 per visit depending on how many people need to be scanned. However, if there are no health issues found, you will probably save money in the long run by investing in your own personal scanner.
A good way to understand how digital x-rays work is by thinking about exposure times in conventional x-ray machines. You’ve probably noticed that most x-ray machines have an adjustable timer before they take pictures.
This timer is what allows doctors to determine if more exposures are needed to get a clear picture of your bones or teeth. It also gives them enough time to make sure you don’t get exposed to too much radiation, as exposure limits vary depending on your body weight.
With digital radiography, however, there’s no need for this middle man. The technology used converts invisible light into visible rays at a very fast speed, so it can be done all within the computer.
The only thing left to do is calculate the correct amount of exposure time for each image, which is something radiology professionals are trained to do.