Thursday, 29 December 2011

X is for X ray

An X-ray is a widely used diagnostic test to examine the inside of the body. X-rays are a very effective way of detecting problems with bones, such as fractures. They can also often identify problems with soft tissue, such as pneumonia or breast cancer.

What are X-rays?
X-rays are a type of radiation. Radiation is a general term that refers to any sort of energy that can travel through space as either a wave or a particle. Examples of other types of radiation include:

•radio waves, and
X-rays are similar to light, except that they have a much higher frequency, which makes them invisible to the naked eye.

Due to their high frequency, X-rays can pass through the human body. This makes X-rays ideal for looking inside the body.

X-rays consist of a type of radiation known as ionising radiation. Ionising radiation is high-energy radiation. It can damage the cells of the body and cause mutations in the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), which can trigger cancer in later life. DNA is a type of acid that contains all human genetic material.

However, ionising radiation is only a threat to health when a person is exposed to a significantly high dose, such as after the disaster that occurred in the nuclear plant at Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union in 1986.

The doses that are used in medical X-rays are very low and are thought to be very safe. They are similar in strength to other sources of natural radiation that people are exposed to every day.

For example, Brazil nuts contain a tiny trace of a radioactive substance called radium, so are slightly radioactive. The radiation that you are exposed to during a typical chest X-ray is the same dose that you would receive if you ate four bags of Brazil nuts.

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