Skeletal survey

Alternative names
X-ray - skeleton

Definition
A skeletal X-ray is used to detect fractures, tumors, or degenerative conditions of the bone.

How the test is performed
The test is performed in a hospital radiology department or in the health care provider’s office by an X-ray technician. You are asked to position the bone to be X-rayed on the table, or stand in different positions depending on the X-ray being taken. The pictures are then taken, repositioning the bone for different views.

Normally, an X-ray focuses on a particular area of concern, but with a skeletal survey, all areas are imaged.

How to prepare for the test
Inform the health care provider if you are pregnant. You must remove all jewelry.

If your child is to have this test performed, it may be helpful to explain how the test will feel, and even practice or demonstrate on a doll. The more familiar your child is with what will happen to them and why, the less anxiety he or she will feel.

How the test will feel
The X-rays themselves are painless; however, repositioning the bone(s) may be uncomfortable. Since the entire body is being evaluated, the test usually takes an hour or more.

Why the test is performed
A skeletal survey X-ray is used to detect fractures, metastasis (cancer that has spread to other areas of the body), osteomyelitis, and after a trauma (such as an auto accident), or in degenerative conditions of the bone. It is often used in children where abuse is suspected.

What abnormal results mean
Abnormal findings 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 the X-ray. A protective shield may be worn over areas not being scanned.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 8, 2012
by Brenda A. Kuper, M.D.

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