What is an X-ray of the pelvis?

An X-ray is a common imaging test that has been used for decades to help doctors view the inside of the body without having to open it up using surgery.

X-ray imaging went public in 1896 when Wilhelm Rontgen, who discovered X-ray imaging, took an image of the hand of anatomist Albert von Kolliker. In the hundred years or so that followed, X-ray technology has become a key element in the identification, diagnosis, and treatment of many types of medical conditions.

Today, different types of X-rays are available for specific purposes. An X-ray of the pelvis focuses specifically on the area between your hips that holds many of your reproductive and digestive organs. Your pelvis is made up of three bones, the ilium, ischium, and pubis, and it also forms your hip joint.

Like all X-rays, this test uses a small amount of radiation, so it’s generally not recommended for pregnant women or small children unless the risks of not taking it are greater than taking it.

Your doctor may order a pelvic X-ray for numerous reasons. Often, an X-ray is taken after a traumatic event, such as a car accident or a fall.

A pelvic X-ray can help your doctor detect various conditions, such as:

  • arthritis that affects your hip
  • inflammation where your sacrum joins the ilium, which is called sacroiliitis
  • pelvic fractures
  • hip dislocations
  • stiffness of the spine or sacroiliac joint, which is called ankylosing spondylitis
  • tumors

X-rays use small amounts of radiation. The level of exposure is considered safe for adults but not for developing fetuses. If you’re pregnant or believe you might be pregnant, tell your doctor before the procedure. They may suggest alternative testing methods that don’t use radiation, such as an MRI scan.

If you have an X-ray because of a traumatic event that causes pain and possibly a broken pelvis, you may experience additional pain during the X-ray. The test requires you to adjust your body so that clear images can be taken, and may cause you discomfort. If you’re worried, ask your doctor for pain medication before your X-ray.

For some X-rays, your doctor will inject you with a contrast dye before the procedure to improve the images. The dye, usually iodine, can cause some side effects, including:

  • hives
  • itching
  • lightheadedness
  • nausea
  • a metallic taste in your mouth

In rare cases, the dye can cause a severe reaction, such as:

  • anaphylactic shock
  • very low blood pressure
  • cardiac arrest

According to the Radiological Society of North America, X-rays are common procedures and involve little preparation.

Depending on the area to be X-rayed, you may want to wear loose, comfortable clothing that you can easily move around in. You may also be asked to change into a hospital gown for the test.

You’ll receive instructions to remove any jewelry and other metallic items from your body before you get the X-ray. Be sure to tell your doctor if you have any metal implants from prior surgeries because these can block X-rays from passing through your body.

If your test requires contrast dye, your doctor or nurse will give it to you as an injection, an enema, or a pill to swallow before the test.

If your doctor is using the X-ray to examine your intestines, they may ask you to fast for a certain amount of time beforehand or to clear out your bowels before you have the X-ray.

X-rays are performed in a hospital’s radiology department or in a clinic that specializes in diagnostic procedures. Once you’re fully prepared, an X-ray technician will explain how to position yourself to get the best images. Your technician will likely ask you to lie, sit, or stand in several positions during the test.

Some images may be taken while you stand in front of a specialized plate that contains X-ray film or sensors. In some cases, the technician will move a large camera connected to a steel arm over your body. This can capture X-ray images of your body using film or sensors held in the table.

While the images are being taken, you’ll need to hold your breath and remain still to get the clearest possible images. When your radiologist is satisfied with the images taken, the X-ray is finished. After the test, you can change back into your regular clothes and go about your normal activities right away.

Your radiologist will go over the images on a computer and then send the findings to your doctor. Results from your X-ray may be available the same day.

Your doctor will view the X-rays and the radiologist’s report and determine how their recommendation for how to proceed. They may order additional imaging scans, blood tests, or other diagnostic tests for a more complete and accurate diagnosis and to come up with a treatment plan.

Taking X-rays is a common, relatively safe way for your doctor to look for issues inside of your body. Depending on the condition, an X-ray may help your doctor diagnose your condition right away, or it may be a preliminary step toward more tests and a complete diagnosis.