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Skull x-ray

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

Alternative Names

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

How the test is performed

You will be asked to lie on the x-ray table or sit in a chair. Your head may be placed in different 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:

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.

Updated: 12/10/2012

Javed Qureshi, MD, American Board of Radiology, Victoria Radiology Associates, Victoria, TX. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, and Stephanie Slon.


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