An X-ray is one of a group of imaging studies. X-rays (technically known as Röntgen rays for the German physicist who discovered them) are a form of electromagnetic radiation. Visible light is another form of electromagnetic radiation. The term X-ray also means the pictures taken by a machine that sends the individual X-ray particle through the body. The images may be recorded on film or in a computer. X-rays are very good for evaluating bones, but not so good for looking at organs and soft tissues without the addition of special substances called contrast media.
X-rays are excellent for diagnosing certain medical conditions, like a fractured bone. A chest X-ray can be used to help diagnose pneumonia or a disease like tuberculosis. Mammograms are a specialized type of X-ray used to diagnose breast cancer. With the addition of contrast media, which can be injected into blood vessels, X-rays can also be used to diagnose clots in blood vessels and other problems inside the body.
The two most likely reasons to have an X-ray in an urgent care setting are for a possible broken bone or pneumonia. It can be hard to distinguish between a broken bone and a soft tissue injury, and the X-ray can provide enough information to resolve the issue. If a patient has a high fever, severe cough and is short of breath, an X-ray can show whether there is an infection in the lungs that signals pneumonia. X-rays are also useful for deciding whether chronic knee pain is related to degenerative arthritis.
Many urgent care clinics have X-ray capability. However, a clinic does not have the ability to perform more complex X-rays and usually doesn't perform mammograms. Urgent care clinics can usually perform X-rays to evaluate possible fractures or pneumonia.
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