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Extremity X-ray

Definition

An extremity x-ray is an image of the hands, wrist, or feet, or all of these areas. The term "extremity" often specifically refers to a human hand or foot.

X-rays are a form of radiation that penetrate the body to form an image on film. Structures that are dense (such as bone) will appear white, air will be black, and other structures will be shades of gray.

See also:

How the test is performed

The test is performed in a hospital radiology department or in the health care provider's office by an x-ray technologist. You will be asked to place the specific area being x-rayed (such as your hand, wrist, or foot) on the table, and to hold still as the x-ray is taken. You may be asked to change position, so additional x-rays can be taken.

How to prepare for the test

Tell the health care provider if you are pregnant. Remove all jewelry from the area being imaged.

How the test will feel

In general, there is no discomfort, although you may be slightly uncomfortable while the extremity is positioned for the x-ray.

Why the test is performed

Your doctor may order this test if you have signs of a fractures, tumors, or degenerative conditions in a hand, foot, or wrist.

Normal Values

The x-ray shows normal structures for the age of the patient.

What abnormal results mean

Abnormal results may be due to:

  • Bone tumor
  • Broken bone (fracture)
  • Degenerative bone conditions
  • Dislocated bone
  • Osteomyelitis

Additional conditions under which the test may be performed:

  • Clubfoot
  • To detect foreign objects in the body

What the risks are

There is low-level radiation exposure. X-rays are monitored and regulated to provide the minimum amount of radiation exposure needed to produce the image. Most experts feel that the risk is low compared with the benefits.

Pregnant women and children are more sensitive to the risks of an x-ray.

References

Rogers LF, Taljanovic MS, Boles CA. Skeletal trauma. In: Grainger RC, Allison D, Adam, Dixon AK, eds. Diagnostic Radiology: A Textbook of Medical Imaging. 5th ed. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone; 2008:chap 46.

Mettler FA. Introduction. In: Mettler FA, ed. Essentials of Radiology. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2005:chap 1.

Review Date: 11/16/2008

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