X-rays are a common way of obtaining bone images to search for irregularities, fractures, or breaks within bones. Used by dentists, doctors, and orthopedists alike, X-rays have become a medical tool that most people don’t think much about. Despite the ordinary use of X-ray machines, how they work is far from simple. Read on for a brief history of the X-ray machine, how X-rays work, and precautions and concerns that should be considered when coming in contact with an X-ray machine.


The History of the X-Ray Machine
Named in 1895, the discovery of X-rays is attributed to German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen. While experimenting with a light, a gas-filled tube, and high electric voltage, Roentgen discovered that when covering the tube with black paper, a green “ray” of invisible light was present. Surprised that this ray of light could pass through black paper, he began experimenting with a variety of other materials, and found that the ray was capable of making its way through most substances. He termed the ray the X-ray for the mathematical ‘X ‘, or unknown variable.

As early as 1896, the discovery had already made its way to the United States, where physicians were utilizing the technology in hospitals.

How Does and X-Ray Work?
X-rays are similar to a lot of other waves. Much like radio waves, microwaves, infrared radiation, or visible light, X-rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation. The difference between X-rays and other types of waves, though, is the high amounts of energy that are contained within X-rays.

In an X-ray machine, a ray of electrons is focused onto a piece of tungsten that acts as a target. Then the electrons are very quickly decelerated when they hit the piece of tungsten. As a result, an X-ray is produced.

X-rays are used to look at bone fractures and breaks, problems with teeth, weakening or thinning of bones, bone infections, abnormal curving of bones or of the spine, and different types of bone cancers.

Dangers of X-Rays
While X-rays are relatively safe, there are a few concerns and precautions that should be considered when using X-ray technology. X-rays are a type of natural radiation. While people are exposed to all types of natural radiation throughout their lifetime, through food and water, radon exposure, and soil and rocks in the earth, X-rays hypothetically do pose a risk for cancer. While there are no studies directly linking radiation from X-rays to cancer, precautions are still often taken, particularly in the case of women receiving X-rays. When a woman receives an X-ray, she is given a mat that covers her uterus that deters the X-rays. A woman is also typically asked the date of her last period before getting an X-ray, to ensure that she’s not pregnant. While the amount of radiation that a person is exposed to during an X-ray is not thought to have any damaging effects on an unborn fetus, if a woman is pregnant, an X-ray is usually not recommended unless the necessity of an X-ray outweighs the risk.

If you’re concerned about negative health consequences you may experience as the result of an X-ray, talk to your physician about your concerns.


This article was written together with Travis Guerrero, a health and nutrition expert who hopes to help you live a healthier life. He recommends considering the cheap X-rays at Prime Urgent Care if you’re in need of an X-ray. Check out their website today and see how they can help you!


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