• X-rays use electromagnetic energy and special film or digital detectors to produce pictures of structures inside the body.
  • X-rays may identify abnormalities in bones, organs, and blood vessels.
  • X-rays are among the most widely used, oldest, safest, and most convenient tests to help diagnose disease.
  • X-ray tests show the anatomy inside the body. X-rays are usually performed by a technician and then examined by a radiologist or a vascular physician if the x rays are focused on the blood vessels.
  • CT scans are a type of x-ray test used to diagnose vascular conditions.
  • Plain x-rays are inexpensive, quick, and effective. However, plain x-rays are usually not powerful enough to diagnose vascular conditions. Therefore, vascular physicians combine x-rays with other imaging technology for more accurate tests, including:
    • Arteriography
    • Venography
    • Computed tomography (CT) scan
    • 3D computerized imaging
    • Fluoroscopy
  • To create x-ray images, a machine sends out waves of high-voltage particles called electrons. On x ray film, bones show up as bright structures, while organ tissue and muscle mass show up as darker, more shadowy objects. Abnormalities such as a cancerous tumor or an obstruction will absorb the energy differently, and therefore often can be identified on x-ray film.
  • The amount of radiation delivered in a standard x-ray can be as little as the amount a person receives in a few days from environmental exposure, and is considered harmless in most cases.
  • Arteriograms, venograms, and CT scans generally expose patients to less radiation than a standard x-ray.


X rays require no special patient preparation.

Women who are pregnant should notify their physicians, because the fetus is at risk for harm with any radiology technique.

Patients who have kidney problems or a known allergy to contrast dye should speak to their physician. These people are at increased risk of complications from imaging tests that use contrast, such as arteriography and some CT scans.


The patient may be asked to put on a lead-lined x ray gown or may remain dressed. The patient should remove metal objects such as jewelry and keys.

For an arteriogram, venogram, or CT scan with contrast, the physician inserts a catheter into an artery or vein and injects the contrast material. Patients may be asked to take a deep breath and hold it for a few seconds for each image.

A standard x ray usually takes about 15 minutes. Arteriograms and venograms generally take 30 minutes to 1 hour. CT scans generally take 30 minutes to 1 hour if no contrast is used. If the physician uses contrast, CT scans take twice as long.

Upon completion of the x ray, the patient can go home or may be asked to wait for the results.


Patients can resume normal activities immediately following routine x rays and CT scans.

If the test involves the use of contrast, the patient is observed for any reactions for 2 to 6 hours after the test. In addition, patients who have undergone arteriography will have a puncture site, commonly in the groin or at the elbow region. This area is closely monitored to ensure that no bleeding occurs.

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Medical Review Date: October 24, 2007 / Copyright © 2012 NorthPoint Domain, Inc. All rights reserved. This material cannot be reproduced in digital or printed form without the express consent of NorthPoint Domain, Inc. Unauthorized copying or distribution of NorthPoint Domain’s Content is an infringement of the copyright holder’s rights.