What Can a Chest X-Ray Diagnose?

Last updated: 19th December 2017

What is a chest x-ray?

Chest x-rays (CXR) are a scan used to evaluate the lungs, heart and chest wall and can detect medical conditions such as:

  • Pneumonia
  • Heart failure
  • Emphysema
  • Lung cancer
  • Tuberculosis

They are the most commonly requested x-ray in medicine and accounts for 50% of all x-rays performed.

What can a chest x-ray diagnose?

Chest x-rays are typically performed to:

  • Investigate symptoms such as shortness of breath, chronic and persistent cough, chest pain, chest injury or fever
  • To monitor the progress of chronic medical conditions such as cancer or heart failure
  • As a screening test for employment, immigration or to join the defence force

Chest x-rays are also used to disgnose lung issues, bone problems of the chest wall, and some heart problems.

Lung issues, including:

  • Air outside the lung (pneumothorax: with air in the pleural space)
  • Infection of the lung (e.g. pneumonia)
  • Fluid in the lung (e.g. heart failure)
  • Fluid around the lung (pleural effusion)
  • Mass in the lung (e.g. lung cancer or infection)

Bone problems of the chest wall, including:

  • Rib fractures
  • Collar bone (clavicle) fractures

Heart problems, including:

  • Enlarged heart (cardiomegally)
  • Abnormal heart position (e.g. dextrocardia)

How is a chest x-ray performed?

Chest x-rays are performed by a radiographer in an x-ray room.

The patient is required to remove all jewellery which may obstruct the view of the chest, and remove upper garments including bra (containing metal), and dress in a loose fitting gown.

The posteroanterior (PA) view is standardly obtained. The patient stands with the chest pressed against the radiographic plate, with hands on hips and elbows pushed in front.

The radiographer will ask the patient to be still and to take a deep breath and hold it. Breath-holding after a deep breath reduces the possibility of a blurred image and also enhances the quality of the x-ray image.

The lateral chest view (side view) may be required to view further information in the chest. The patient stands sideways to the radiographic plate with arms elevated, and the x-ray is taken with the patient taking and holding a deep breath in.

Related specialists

Related tests

Also known as

  • CXR
  • AP CXR
  • PA CXR
  • Lateral CXR

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This article is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. If in doubt, HealthEngine recommends consulting with a registered health practitioner.