Types of Radiation Used in Medical Imaging Tests

Ionizing radiation is used in health care procedures to help providers find the causes of symptoms (diagnoses) and to monitor or treat health conditions. While we are all exposed to ionizing radiation every day, any additional exposure, including that caused by imaging procedures, slightly increases the risk of developing cancer in the future. In general, the benefits of diagnosing or treating a health problem with an imaging procedure will outweigh these risks. It is important to understand the risks and benefits of common medical imaging tests before undergoing them.

The amount of radiation exposure from an imaging test depends on the imaging test being used and the part of the body being tested. The effective dose associated with most diagnostic imaging modalities in medicine covers a wide range, from less than 0.03 to more than 70 mSv. The low doses of radiation used in imaging tests may slightly increase a person's risk of cancer, but it's important to put this risk into perspective. Communication between the referring healthcare provider and the imaging team can help ensure that the patient undergoes an appropriate examination with an optimal radiation dose. In many cases, the risk posed by an imaging procedure to a pregnant woman and to the fetus is very small compared to the benefit of learning about a medical problem.

The American College of Radiology has stated that radiological procedures are medically prescriptive and should be used for specific purposes when the benefit to the patient outweighs the potential risk. If you are concerned about the radiation you may receive from a CT scan, a positron emission tomography, or any other imaging test that uses radiation, check with your healthcare provider. The FDA also has regulations that cover the safety, efficacy, and radiation control of all X-ray imaging devices (see the Information for Industry section). Through the Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act of 1997 (FDAMA), the FDA has formally recognized several consensus standards related to X-ray imaging. A better understanding of medical ionizing radiation allows professionals to better communicate risks and benefits to their patients. In the cardiovascular field, MRI sequences have been developed for a wide range of applications, including cinematographic images to measure heart function, several methods to characterize the myocardium and identify damaged tissues in it, the measurement of myocardial perfusion, the measurement of volumetric blood flow and flow patterns in the heart and blood vessels, and angiographic images of the vasculature.

Wilhelm Roentgen (the first person to discover the potential of using electromagnetic radiation to create X-ray images) (right). Therefore, a beneficial first step in reducing the risk of radiation for patients is to develop an agreed protocol of diagnostic reference tables with appropriate radiation for different procedures and types of patients. We encourage healthcare providers and patients who suspect that they have problems with a medical imaging device to file a voluntary report through MedWatch, the FDA's Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program. It is important for healthcare providers and patients alike to understand all aspects related to medical imaging tests that use ionizing radiation. The benefits associated with these tests often outweigh any potential risks posed by radiation exposure. However, it is important for healthcare providers and patients to be aware of these risks so that they can make informed decisions about their health care.

Lucas Clark
Lucas Clark

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