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Chest X-rays and Asthma

Diagnosing Asthma with Pulmonary Function Testing

By Carol Sorgen

Updated February 15, 2008

(LifeWire) - Is a chest x-ray for asthma a usual part of pulmonary function testing? While most asthma specialists do not usually find a chest x-ray helpful in diagnosing asthma, they may suggest one to determine if other conditions of the lungs, heart or chest are present.

A chest x-ray may also be ordered when a patient with asthma is hospitalized (as part of a preoperative physical exam) or treated in the ER because of a severe asthma attack. Asthma patients who also have symptoms suggesting lung or heart disease may get chest x-rays as part of their annual exams.

During a chest x-ray, a special camera emits a small dose of radiation that is primarily absorbed by the bones. The x-ray enables a doctor to clearly see the lungs, heart, and bones of the chest, and determine if there is anything of concern. Problems with the lungs may include pneumonia, bronchitis, or cancer; cardiac problems may include enlarged heart or heart failure.

X-rays are usually taken by a trained and certified radiology technician. Patients who are undergoing an x-ray of the chest will put on a special gown and remove all metallic items, including jewelry, so that they don't block the x-ray beam from penetrating the body. The x-ray technician may ask the patient to inhale deeply and hold her breath during the procedure to inflate the lungs and make the various chest tissues more visible. X-rays may be taken from the front, back and side views, and from different camera angles while sitting, standing or lying down.

Once the x-ray has been taken, the exposed film is placed into a developing machine and the image is examined and interpreted by a radiologist (a physician who specializes in the reading of x-rays). After the radiologist reviews the x-ray, he or she will send a report to the doctor who ordered the test. This doctor will then discuss the results and recommended treatment options with the patient.

The risks of chest x-rays are minimal, especially because today's high-speed film does not require as much radiation exposure as the film used years ago. However, any exposure to radiation has some risk, which is why the technician asks the patient to wear a lead apron over the reproductive parts of the body or the extremities to shield them from exposure. Pregnant women should ask their physicians before having an x-ray taken, as this could harm the fetus.

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"Chest X-ray." /MedlinePlus//. /18 Aug. 2007. U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. 31 Oct. 2007 <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003804.htm#How%20the%20test%20is%20performed>

"How is Asthma Diagnosed?" /National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, Diseases and ConditionsIndex/. May 2006. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, National Institutes of Health. 31 Oct. 2007 <http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Asthma/Asthma_Diagnosis.html>

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