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Chest X-ray - Heart Health

A chest X-ray is used to help determine whether there are any abnormalities in the size or shape of your heart, which might indicate that you have heart disease. It may also show areas of abnormal calcification - hardening and blockage of the arteries due to atherosclerosis - in the main blood vessels that might be causing problems, although a CT scan is better for this.

A chest X-ray is also useful in diagnosing heart disease accurately because it shows the lungs, which are closely interrelated to your heart. Occasionally lung disease can mimic heart symptoms. A chest X-ray can detect pneumonia, tumours, excess lung fluid, which may indicate heart failure, as well as the blood vessels in the lungs, which can also provide clues to your heart health.

For example, enlargement of the pulmonary arteries (the arteries which carry blood from the heart to the lungs), along with narrowing of the arteries within the lung tissue, may indicate high blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries. This can cause thickening of the heart’s right ventricle, which pumps blood through the pulmonary arteries to the lungs, impairing its ability to do this effectively over time.

Chest X-rays can also be used to view pacemakers and artificial heart valves to check for correct positioning and to detect scar tissue that might affect the heart’s performance and general health.

What to expect and how to prepare

Having a chest X-ray is fast and painless. You’ll usually need to go to the radiography department of a clinic or hospital, and be asked to remove any clothing with metal or other hard buttons or zippers that might show up on the X-ray. Alternatively, you may be asked to wear a hospital gown.

You’ll then usually be asked to sit upright while the X-rays are taken, usually from both the front and side views. Generally, the whole procedure takes less than 10 minutes.

X-ray results: what they can show

Although an X-ray doesn’t give a highly detailed picture of what’s going on in your heart, it does provide a valuable ‘big picture’ view showing the overall layout of key structures. This can help to flag any areas for concern, such as unusual shapes and sizes, growths or shadows.

Used in conjunction with other tests, X-ray results can help to provide a fuller picture of your heart health, rule out other causes of chest pain such as lung infection and provide valuable clues to guide your diagnosis and treatment.

Risks of chest X-rays

A chest  X-ray is a very low risk procedure. The level of radiation used in today’s procedures is minimal and hasn’t been shown to have any long-term ill effects.

Before you enter the X-ray room, you’ll be asked a series of questions about your health to determine if any special precautions need to be taken – especially if you are pregnant.

Next: Electrocardiogram

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This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

Bupa Australia Pty Ltd makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. Bupa Australia is not liable for any loss or damage you suffer arising out of the use of or reliance on the information. Except that which cannot be excluded by law. We recommend that you consult your doctor or other qualified health professional if you have questions or concerns about your health. For more details on how we produce our health content, visit the About our health information page.

Last published 31 October 2011

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