Skull radiograph; X-ray head
What is a skull X-ray?
It is a an X-ray picture of the skull, showing mainly the bony structures, but soft tissues and air spaces such as the sinuses may also be seen. X-rays are electromagnetic waves produced by an X-ray generator. They pass easily through soft tissue, but less easily through denser tissue such as bone. This difference in penetration allows the production of an image on an X-ray film or by an electronic detector.
What are the common uses of the procedure?
The skull X-ray is performed to show abnormalities of the skull bones such as congenital abnormalities (birth defects), injuries (such as suspected skull fractures), sinus problems or to evaluate tumours.
How should I prepare?
Remove jewellery. Inform the radiographer or doctor if you may be pregnant. A skull X-ray is not always absolutely forbidden in pregnancy, as a lead-apron may be used to shield the unborn foetus but all forms of radiation are better avoided in pregnancy.
How is the procedure performed?
The patient's attending doctor normally refers the patient for a skull X-ray. The X-ray is then performed at an X-ray facility, usually at a radiology department at a hospital. The procedure is performed by a radiographer who will position the patient's head in a number of different positions before taking the series of X-rays. The films are then processed or digital images may be produced.
The images are then usually examined by a radiologist (a medical doctor who specialises in making diagnoses with the aid of various forms of imaging) and a report is issued. The report and the images are then made available to the referring doctor who will decide on the patient's further management.
The patient usually will experience no discomfort due to the procedure itself. If there is an injury, positioning or movement may be painful.
The radiation dose involved with a skull X-ray is generally very low and well controlled. Children and pregnant woman are more sensitive to radiation exposure and the risk versus benefit should be evaluated in every such instance.
What are the limitations of the procedure?
Computed Tomography (CT scan) of the head is preferred above skull X-rays in many clinical scenarios. For conditions such as skull injuries and sinusitis a skull X-ray is nowadays mostly omitted in favor of CT. A skull X-ray also renders virtually no information of the brain and again CT or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) are preferred if the brain is to be imaged.