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Skull X-ray

Definition

A skull x-ray is a picture of the bones surrounding the brain, including the facial bones, the nose, and the sinuses.

See also: Sinus x-ray

Alternative Names

X-ray - head; X-ray - skull; Skull radiography; Head x-ray

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 technician. You will be asked to lie on the x-ray table or sit in a chair. Your head may be placed in a number of positions.

How to prepare for the test

Inform the health care provider if you are pregnant. Remove all jewelry.

How the test will feel

Generally, there is little or no discomfort during an x-ray. If there is a head injury, positioning the head may be uncomfortable.

Why the test is performed

Your doctor may order this test if you you have injured your skull or you have symptoms or signs of a structural problem inside the skull (such as a tumor or bleeding).

A skull x-ray is also used to evaluate an unusually shaped child's head.

Additional conditions under which the test may be performed include the following:

  • Malocclusion of teeth
  • Mastoiditis
  • Occupational hearing loss
  • Otitis media; chronic
  • Otosclerosis
  • Pituitary tumor
  • Sinusitis

What abnormal results mean

Abnormal results may be due to:

  • Fracture
  • Tumor
  • Erosion or decalcification of the bone
  • Movement of the soft tissues inside the skull

A skull x-ray may detect increased intracranial pressure and unusual skull structures that are present at birth (congenital).

What the risks are

There is low 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 associated with x-rays.

Special considerations

A CT scan of the head is usually preferred to a skull x-ray to evaluate most head injuries or brain disorders. Skull x-rays are rarely used as the main test to diagnose such conditions.

References

Stevens JM. Cranial and intracranial disease: trauma, cerebrospinal fluid disturbances, degenerative disorders and epilepsy. 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 5.

Review Date: 12/22/2008

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Information developed by A.D.A.M., Inc. regarding tests and test results may not directly correspond with information provided by UCSF Medical Center. Please discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you may have.