X-radiation (composed of X-rays) is a form of electromagnetic radiation. X-rays have a wavelength in the range of 10 to 0.01 nanometers, corresponding to frequencies in the range 30 petahertz to 30 exahertz (30×1015Hz to 30×1018Hz) and energies in the range 120 eV to 120 keV. They are longer than gamma rays but shorter than UV rays. In many languages, X-radiation is called Röntgen radiation after one of its first investigators, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen.
X-rays are primarily used for diagnostic radiography and crystallography. As a result, the term “X-ray” is metonymically used to refer to a radiographic image produced using this method, in addition to the method itself. X-rays are a form of ionizing radiation and as such can be dangerous.
X-rays span 3 decades in wavelength, frequency and energy. From about 0.12 to 12 keV they are classified as soft x-rays, and from about 12 to 120 keV as hard X-rays, due to their penetrating abilities.
X-rays are especially useful in the detection of pathology of the skeletal system, but are also useful for detecting some disease processes in soft tissue. Some notable examples are the very common chest X-ray, which can be used to identify lung diseases such as pneumonia, lung cancer or pulmonary edema, and the abdominal X-ray, which can detect ileus (blockage of the intestine), free air (from visceral perforations) and free fluid (in ascites). In some cases, the use of X-rays is debatable, such as gallstones (which are rarely radiopaque) or kidney stones (which are often visible, but not always). Also, traditional plain X-rays pose very little use in the imaging of soft tissues such as the brain or muscle. Imaging alternatives for soft tissues are computed axial tomography (CAT or CT scanning), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasound. Since 2005, X-rays are listed as a carcinogen by the U.S. government. Radiotherapy, a curative medical intervention, now used almost exclusively for cancer, employs higher energies of radiation.
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