In this age of high tech equipment and gadgets, having an imaging test as part of the diagnostic process is considered normal. Yet alongside this development, the average person probably has a valid question in mind. How much radiation exposure is too much, how will you know if you had enough? Will your physician tell you to do otherwise?
There have been reports in medical journals about the possibility of patients being exposed to too much radiation. The use and sometimes overuse of CT scans in the consultation phase can be a cause for worry. While it is true that the risks of having cancer from a single test is minimal, the medical environment has changed so much that it has brought about a significant increase in the use of CT scans as a diagnostic tool. Aside from causing medical utilization costs to swell, this rise in usage places an unnecessary risk on some groups of patients, like children, for instance.
Some researchers believe that a large percentage of the CT scans done were possibly unnecessary. It is an unfortunate scenario that is brought about by doctors being too cautious in their evaluation or possibly those who are afraid of being sued later on. While the attitude of cautiousness has its merits, if a test is done just to appease an overly worried family member, and not because the patient has alarming symptoms, then it’s not the right course of action to take.
The difference between an Xray and a CT Scan is the amount of radiation that you are exposed to. In traditional xrays, you are exposed to a single low dose beam, which gives you a two dimensional image. CT scans, on the other hand, involve a huge xray tube rotating around you. This produces three-dimensional, high resolution images which makes it a really great diagnostic tool. It allows your physician to view all the details of your body and can really be useful in catching disease conditions in their early stages. The downside is that it exposes you to radiation doses that are approximately 600 times more than that of an average xray.
There are occasions though when the situation is relatively simple and does not require a long drawn out process. For instance, if you are experiencing excruciating pain in your abdomen or are suffering from a severe headache that is not relieved even when you take pain meds, then a CT scan is obviously needed. The scan saves your physician a lot of time and guesswork trying to figure out what of several major organs in your abdomen is causing the pain.
There is no doubt that the invention of this machine has given medical care a definite advantage. Its accuracy allows doctors to see large areas of your body in great detail. It’s probably cancelled a lot of appendectomies which was the go-to operation before for pain over the abdominal area. But to consider it a default procedure when the situation does not merit it is not only irresponsible but dangerous for the patient as well.
While you’re not likely to lose your hair after undergoing a CT scan of your abdomen, the risk of developing cancer because of radiation exposure is still present. Children are especially vulnerable because they are likely to get more potent doses. The difficult part here is that the cancers are not likely to be seen for years or even decades. While not everyone will have the condition, the possibility that a patient will develop cancer is around 1 in 500. This percentage lessens as we get older. So it might bear keeping in mind that the most conservative methods are still best for children. The inherent danger with using technology, specifically radiologic devices, is that in our aim to have quick patient evaluations, we may be unconsciously causing disease conditions to progress rapidly as well.