Is there a Radiation Related Risk from Medical Imaging Tests?

Medical imaging procedures have come such a long way since the invention of the X-ray. And yet, because of sensational media coverage, many are still afraid to have common imaging procedures performed. Perhaps it is the fear of what can be found, or perhaps folks just don’t like to be poked and prodded. Whatever the reason, ignoring imaging tests that can improve your quality of life is not only unwise, but dangerous. Many worry more about dangers from the testing procedure rather than the possible results to be obtained. One major concern is the amount of radiation used in these imaging procedures and whether the amount has harmful effects on the patient. This article will explore any potential radiation danger with every medical imaging procedure. Discuss with your doctors whether you really need the Xray or CT and if the answer is yes, don’t hesitate. Also ask if there are other tests like ultrasound or MRI that can give the same information.

Ultrasounds are useful in determining the conditions of the internal organs. Ultrasounds use high-frequency sound waves to produce images of the body’s structures and are also quite painless. Ultrasounds are commonly used in examining an unborn fetus so radiation is never used.  The most uncomfortable aspect of this procedure is the temperature of the ultrasound gel on the skin, which is at its harshest a mild discomfort. An MRI is another imaging procedure that offers no radiation risk. MRIs utilize radio and magnetic waves to produce images, most commonly of the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems.

X-rays are one of the oldest and most frequently used imaging procedures. They are also one of the most painless procedures used to examine the structural formations of the body, most commonly bone breaks and fractures. X-rays use the lowest doses of radiation possible in order to obtain the clearest image for doctors. Furthermore, facilities which use digital X-rays (which our facility uses exclusively) rather than the traditional X-rays use 80-90% less radiation.

On average, Americans are annually exposed to 3.1 mSv or millisieverts of radiation from various sources like naturally occurring elements and even some fruits and vegetables. Some imaging procedures that contain more than the national average are CT-Scans or computed tomography and PET-CT scans or positron emission tomography. CT scans utilize radiation in concert with computer technology in order to create images of the body.  CT-scans are primarily used for examining the various tissues of the body, especially the chest and abdomen. While the radiation exposure from this procedure is higher than average, not having the procedure could be more harmful to you if you have a family history of cancer or a lifestyle that promotes it. PET-CT scans are a branch of nuclear medicine that uses a higher than average amount of radiation in order to differentiate between healthy and diseased tissues.

The amount of radiation present during these procedures can vary based on the size of the patient or the location of the examined area. The most important aspect to remember when having these imaging procedures performed is that our doctors and technicians will use the lowest possible dosage in order to produce the clearest image. These procedures are designed to be safe enough to perform on children and pregnant women so that no one has to go without a proper diagnosis. Speaking to your doctor or technician about your fears and concerns can help you to become a more informed patient as well as helping your doctors to give you the best quality of care and medical diagnosis possible.

Looking to talk to an imaging expert in the Greater New Orleans or Metairie area? We’re radiologists concerned about quality patient care. Call 504-883-8111 to schedule an appointment, or do it online by clicking here.