X-rays are often used to diagnose complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). X-rays may be used to identify signs of CRPS in the bone, such as loss of bone minerals. X-rays may also be used to rule out other conditions which may potentially contribute to the patient’s symptoms. As with several other diagnostic tools, x-rays typically cannot act as a stand-alone diagnosis for CRPS. Therefore, X-rays are often used in conjunction with other forms of diagnostic testing.
CRPS and Bone Loss
It is common for patients with CRPS to experience a decrease in bone mineral density. This bone loss typically occurs in the later stages of CRPS, such as three to 12 months after the onset of the condition. X-rays will typically appear normal during the first three months of CRPS. When CRPS affects the patient’s bone, osteopenia occurs. Osteopenia is a condition that causes lower-than-normal bone density. In many cases, osteopenia is considered a precursor to osteoporosis.
What Are X-rays?
X-rays are a type of electromagnetic radiation that is delivered in waves. The waves can penetrate through the skin, where they are absorbed into the body’s tissues. X-rays are effective for internal imaging because different types of tissues in the body absorb the radiation differently. Softer tissues such as skin and muscles do not absorb x-rays well. As a result, these tissues are not prominent on x-ray image results. However, bones are effective radiation absorbers. This results in an image that primarily depicts bones.
Dual-energy X-ray Absorptiometry
Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) is a specialized type of x-ray used to measure bone mineral density in patients. DXA uses two x-ray beams that provide different levels of energy. One beam is low-energy, while the other is high-energy. The x-ray beams are aimed at the area that specialists would like to examine for signs of CRPS. Just as with a standard x-ray, the observed results from DXA are extracted from the radiation’s interaction with the patient’s bone. The results are evaluated using the differences between the two beams.
X-rays are painless and typically short procedures. They are typically performed in a variety of medical settings, such as a hospital’s radiology department, a dentist’s office, or a doctor’s office. Preparation is typically simple. The patient may wish to wear loose, comfortable clothing. In some cases, the patient will be asked to change into a special gown provided by the medical facility.
During the Procedure
In most cases, the patient will be asked to lie, stand, or sit in different positions throughout the test. Some types of x-rays involve standing in front of a special plate which contains x-ray sensors or film. In cases where a camera is used, it is often connected to a steel arm.
The x-ray technician will typically move the camera over the patient’s body. During this process, the patient will be asked to lie as still as possible to obtain the best-quality images. The patient may also be asked to hold his or her breath, as this may provide significant clarity benefits to the resulting images.
Due to the fact that x-rays deliver radiation into patients’ bodies, controversy surrounds use of x-rays in a medical setting. Radiation is known to cause long-term side effects, most notably cancer. However, evidence shows that cancer from x-ray radiation is uncommon unless patients are exposed to high doses of radiation, such as a large number of x-rays over an extended period of time. Radiation burn may also occur when patients are exposed to high doses of radiation in a short period of time. Sunburn is another type of radiation burn.
Rare, long-term risks of x-rays may include:
- Cataracts, or clouding of the eye’s lenses
- Speeding the process of aging
- Reducing immunity to disease
- Produce changes in cells, such as reproductive cells
Barrs, TJ. “X-Rays and Radiopaque Drugs.” American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy 62.19 (2005): 2026-2030. CINAHL Plus with Full Text. Web. 11 Mar. 2014.
McMahon, P. J., et al. “Contrast Mechanisms for Neutron Radiography.” Applied Physics Letters 78.7 (2001): 1011. Academic Search Complete. Web. 11 Mar. 2014.