X-rays are a form of radiation, like light or radio waves, that are focused into a beam, much like a flashlight beam. X-rays can pass through most objects, including the human body. X-rays make a picture by striking a detector that either exposes a film or sends the picture to a computer. Dense tissues in the body, such as bones, block (absorb) many of the X-rays and look white on an X-ray picture. Less dense tissues, such as muscles and organs, block fewer of the X-rays (more of the X-rays pass through) and look like shades of gray on an X-ray. X-rays that pass only through air look black on the picture.
A skull X-ray may help find head injuries, bone fractures, or abnormal growths or changes in bone structure or size.
Why It Is Done
Skull X-rays have largely been replaced by CT scans. A skull X-ray may be done to:
- Find fractures.
- Find a metallic foreign object stuck in the skull.
- Check problems on a baby's head, such as an odd shaped skull.
How To Prepare
Before the X-ray test, tell your doctor if you are or might be pregnant. Pregnancy and the risk of radiation exposure to your unborn baby (fetus) must be considered. The risk of damage from the X-rays is usually very low compared with the potential benefits of the test. If a skull X-ray is absolutely necessary, a lead apron will be placed over your abdomen to shield your baby from exposure to the X-rays.
You do not need to do anything before you have this test.
How It Is Done
A skull X-ray is taken by a radiology technologist. The X-ray pictures are usually read by a doctor who specializes in interpreting X-rays (radiologist).
You will need to remove any jewelry that may be in the way of the X-ray picture. You will also need to remove glasses or dentures.
You may be asked to lie on an X-ray table or sit in a chair. The bones of the skull and face are so detailed that several views from different angles are needed. A series of X-ray pictures is usually taken from the front, back, top, and sides of your head. You should hold your head completely still while the pictures are being taken. A padded brace, foam pads, a headband, or sandbags may be used to hold your head in place while the pictures are taken.
Skull X-rays usually take about 10 to 20 minutes. You will wait about 5 minutes until the X-rays are processed in case repeat pictures need to be taken. In some clinics and hospitals, X-ray pictures can be shown immediately on a computer screen (digitally).
How It Feels
You will feel no discomfort from the X-rays. The X-ray table may feel hard and the room may be cool. You may find that the positions you need to hold are uncomfortable or painful, especially if you have an injury.
There is always a slight risk of damage to cells or tissue from being exposed to any radiation, including the low levels of radiation used for this test. But the risk of damage from the X-rays is usually very low compared with the potential benefits of the test.
For example, the radiation exposure from a chest X-ray is about equal to the natural radiation exposure received during a round-trip airline flight from Boston to Los Angeles (Montreal to Vancouver) or ten days in the Rocky Mountains (Denver, Colorado).
A skull X-ray is a series of pictures of the bones of the skull. In an emergency, the doctor can see the initial results of a skull X-ray in a few minutes. Otherwise, a radiologist usually has the official X-ray report ready the next day.
The bones of the skull are normal in size and appearance.
No foreign objects, abnormal growths, or bone abnormalities are present.
No broken bones are present.
Foreign objects, such as fragments of metal or glass, may be present.
Abnormal growths, such as tumors, may be present.
Broken bones may be present.
Signs of a disease that affects the bones of the skull may be present.
What Affects the Test
Reasons you may not be able to have the test or why the results may not be helpful include:
- If you cannot remain still during the test. The pictures may not be clear.
- If you have a possible neck injury. In this case, it may not be possible to do a complete set of skull X-rays.
- If you have a false eye (prosthetic eye) or other artificial or metal objects on the head. These can make a shadow on the X-ray picture that hides part of the bones.
What To Think About
- A computed tomography (CT) scan may be done instead of a skull X-ray. A CT scan shows more detail of a possible injury to the brain than an X-ray does. CT scans are more expensive than skull X-rays and may not be available in some areas. For more information, see the medical test Computed Tomography (CT) Scan of the Head and Face.
- Sometimes your X-ray results may be different because you were tested at a different medical center or earlier test results are not available to compare to the new test findings.
|Author||Maria G. Essig, MS, ELS|
|Editor||Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA|
|Associate Editor||Tracy Landauer|
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Paul D. Traughber, MD - Radiology|
|Last Updated||April 24, 2008|