What is a skull X-ray?
A skull X-ray is an imaging test of the skull bones. X-rays use a small amount of
radiation beams to make images. Standard X-rays are done for many reasons. They are
done to diagnose tumors, infections, foreign items, or bone injuries.
X-ray beams pass through body tissues onto treated plates. The more solid a structure
is, the whiter it looks on the film. Computers and digital media are now more often
used in place of films.
X-rays of the skull are not used as often now due to the use of CT scans and MRIs.
But they are still helpful for looking for skull fractures and other conditions of
the skull and brain.
Bones of the skull
The skull is also called the cranium. It's the bony structure of the head. There are
2 sets of bones make up the skull:
All bones in the skull are attached to each other by joints that don't move, except
for the jawbone. The jawbone is attached to the skull with a movable joint.
The cranium holds and protects the brain. It's made up of 8 bones. They are:
The face has 14 bones. These include those that make up the jaws, cheeks, and nasal
Why might I need a skull X-ray?
X-rays of the skull may be done to diagnose:
Fractures of the bones of the skull
Certain metabolic and endocrine disorders that cause skull defects
Problems in the nasal sinuses
Calcified areas in the brain
There may be other reasons for your healthcare provider to recommend an X-ray of the
skull. Be sure to talk with them about the reason for your skull X-ray.
What are the risks of a skull X-ray?
Ask your healthcare provider about the amount of radiation used during the procedure
and the risks to you. It's a good idea to keep a record of your radiation exposure
to tell your healthcare providers. This includes previous X-rays and CT scans. Risks
of radiation exposure may be related to the number of X-ray tests or treatments over
If you are pregnant or think you may be, tell your provider. Radiation exposure in
pregnancy may lead to birth defects. If you need to have a skull X-ray, care will
be taken to protect your baby.
You may have other risks. Ask your healthcare provider before the procedure.
How do I get ready for a skull X-ray?
You don't need to do anything to get ready for a skull X-ray. You don't need to make
changes in your food, drink, or medicines. Your healthcare provider will explain the
procedure to you and ask if you have questions.
Tell the radiologic technologist:
If you are pregnant or think you could be
If you have a prosthetic (artificial) eye, because the prosthesis can create a shadow
on an X-ray of the skull
What happens during a skull X-ray?
An X-ray may be done on an outpatient basis. This means you go home afterward. Or
it may be done as part of your stay in a hospital.
An X-ray of the skull follows this general process:
You will be asked to remove any clothing, jewelry, hairpins, eyeglasses, hearing aids,
or other metal objects that might interfere with the X-ray.
If you are asked to remove clothing, you will be given a hospital gown to wear.
You will be positioned on an X-ray table. The technician will make sure that the part
of the skull to be X-rayed is between the X-ray machine and a cassette with the X-ray
film or a digital plate.
A lead apron or shield may be draped over parts of your body that are not to be X-rayed.
If the X-ray is being done to find an injury, special care will be taken to prevent
more injury. For example, a neck brace may be used if a cervical spine fracture is
suspected. The X-ray itself causes no pain. Moving the body into position may cause
some discomfort or pain if you have an injury or had surgery. The technician will
make sure to minimize any discomfort or pain.
The technician will step behind a protective window while the image is taken. They
will ask you to hold still for a few moments while the X-ray is taken. The radiation
beam will be focused on the area to be X-rayed.
Some skull X-ray studies may be done in several different positions. It's very important
to be still while the X-ray is taken. Any movement may distort the image and another
X-ray may be needed.
What happens after a skull X-ray?
There is no special type of care needed after an X-ray of the skull. Your healthcare
provider may give you instructions after the procedure if needed. They will tell you
when to expect your X-ray results.
Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:
The name of the test or procedure
The reason you are having the test or procedure
What results to expect and what they mean
The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
What the possible side effects or complications are
When and where you are to have the test or procedure
Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are
What would happen if you did not have the test or procedure
Any alternative tests or procedures to think about
When and how you will get the results
Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems
How much you will have to pay for the test or procedure