Skull X-Ray

Written by Brian Krans | Published on July 18, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is a Skull X-Ray?

A skull X-ray is an imaging test doctors use to see the bones of the skull, including the facial bones, the nose, and the sinuses. It is an easy, quick, and effective method that has been used for decades to help doctors view the area that houses your most vital organ—your brain.

Why a Skull X-Ray Is Done

A skull X-ray is typically done after a traumatic head injury. The X-ray allows doctors to inspect any damage from the injury.

Other reasons you may undergo a skull X-ray include:

Prior to your X-ray, your doctor will tell you the exact reason for your X-ray.

The Risks of a Skull X-ray

While X-rays use radiation, none of it remains in your body when the test is done. Doctors argue that the benefits of the test outweigh any risk from exposure to the minimal amount of radiation produced.

However, while the level of exposure is considered safe for adults, it is not safe for developing fetuses. If you are pregnant or believe you are pregnant, tell your doctor, as the X-ray may be unsafe for your unborn child.

How to Prepare for a Skull X-Ray

X-rays require little preparation on the patient’s part.

You will have to remove any jewelry, eyeglasses, and other metals from around your head. This includes necklaces and earrings. Metal can interfere with the clarity of the X-ray image.

Inform your doctor if you have any kind of surgically implanted device, such as a metal plate in your head, an artificial heart valve, or a pacemaker. Even though these things might interfere somewhat with the image, your doctor may still choose to use X-ray. Other scans, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), can be risky for people with metal in their bodies.

Before the X-ray, you may need to undress from the waist up and change into a hospital gown. You may be able to keep your clothing on if it doesn’t have metal snaps or zippers.

How a Skull X-Ray Is Performed

The X-ray will be performed in a special room with a movable X-ray camera attached to a large metal arm. It’s designed to be able to take multiple X-rays of various body parts.

For a skull X-ray, you’ll sit in a chair or lie down on a specialized table. A drawer under the table contains the X-ray film or a special sensor that helps record the images on a computer. A lead apron may be placed over your body, especially your pelvic region and breasts, to protect from radiation.

The X-ray technician may have you lie on your back to start, but you’ll have to change positions so the camera can capture front and side views. While the images are being taken, you’ll be asked to hold your breath and stay very still. You won’t feel the X-ray pass through you.

After the right images have been captured—which should only take about 20 minutes or so—your part is complete. You can put your clothes back on and go about your business.

Following Up After a Skull X-Ray

The images from an X-ray are usually developed on large sheets of film. When presented against a lit background, your doctor can see an array of problems, from tumors to fractures in the skull. As the radiation passes through your body onto the film, denser materials, such as bone and muscle, appear white. Tumors and other growths may also appear white.

A radiologist goes over the images and gives his or her interpretations to your doctor. Your doctor will go over the results of your X-ray as soon as they are available. If you’re undergoing a skull X-ray in an emergency situation, the X-rays will be rushed and available quickly.

Depending on what the X-rays show, your doctor may order other imaging scans, such as an MRI or computed tomography (CT) scan.

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