X-ray - skull

Alternative names
X-ray - head; Skull X-ray; Skull radiography; Head X-ray

The skull X-ray is used to examine the bones of the skull, including the facial bones, the nose, and the sinuses. See also sinuses X-ray.

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 will be asked to lie on the X-ray table or sit in a chair. Your head may be placed in a number of positions.

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

Infants and children:
The physical and psychological preparation you can provide for this or any test or procedure depends on your child’s age, interests, previous experiences, and level of trust. For specific information regarding how you can prepare your child, see the following topics as they correspond to your child’s age:

  • Infant test or procedure preparation (birth to 1 year)  
  • Toddler test or procedure preparation (1 to 3 years)  
  • Preschooler test or procedure preparation (3 to 6 years)  
  • Schoolage test or procedure preparation (6 to 12 years)  
  • Adolescent test or procedure preparation (12 to 18 years)

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
This test may be performed when there has been trauma and/or injury to the skull or when symptoms indicate a disorder involving structural abnormalities may be present inside the skull (such as tumors or bleeding). The X-ray is also used to evaluate an unusually shaped child’s head.

What abnormal results mean
A skull X-ray may show fractures, tumors, erosion or decalcification of the bone, or shifts in the soft tissues inside the skull. The X-ray may detect increased intracranial pressure, and congenital (existing at birth) anomalies (unusual structure).

Additional conditions under which the test may be performed include the following:

  • Dementia  
  • Friedreich’s ataxia  
  • Hydrocephalus  
  • Malocclusion of teeth  
  • Mastoiditis  
  • Meningitis  
  • Multi-infarct dementia  
  • Occupational hearing loss  
  • Otitis media; chronic  
  • Otosclerosis  
  • Petit mal seizure  
  • Pituitary tumor  
  • Senile dementia, Alzheimer’s type  
  • Acute sinusitis  
  • Chronic sinusitis

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 often preferable to a skull X-ray to evaluate head injuries.

Johns Hopkins patient information

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

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.