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Hand x-ray

Definition

A hand x-ray is a medical image of one or both hands.

Alternative Names

X-ray - hand

How the test is performed

X-rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation like light, but of higher energy. They can pass through 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.

A hand x-ray is taken in a hospital radiology department or your health care provider's office by an x-ray technician. You will be asked to place your hand on the x-ray table, and keep it very still as the picture is being taken. You may need to change the position of your hand, so additional images can be taken.

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 associated with x-rays.

Why the test is performed

Hand x-ray is used to detect fractures, tumors, or degenerative conditions of the hand. Hand x-rays may also be performed to assist in determining the "bone age" of a child in order to determine if metabolic or nutritional disorders are interfering with proper growth.

What abnormal results mean

Abnormal results may include fractures, bone tumors, degenerative bone conditions, and osteomyelitis (inflammation of the bone caused by an infection).

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 of x-rays.

References

Mettler FA. Skeletal system. In: Mettler FA, Jr, ed. Essentials of Radiology. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2005:chap 8.

Rogers LF, Taljanovic MS, Boles CA. Skeletal trauma. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology. 5th ed. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone; 2008:chap 46.


Review Date: 8/3/2010
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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