Common Questions About Medical Imaging Safety
admin 11-May-2016

Medical imaging scans including PET scans, CT scans and ultrasounds can play an important role in helping your doctor diagnose a medical condition. For example, depending on the type of scan you have, it may detect cancer in its earliest stage, which often improves prognosis. Imaging scans can also diagnose life-threatening conditions, such as aneurysms and blood clots.

When you’re faced with needing a medical imaging scan, it’s normal to have concerns over their safety and worry about radiation exposure or possible side effects. Although in most cases, the benefits of the scan outweigh the risks, it may ease your mind to have your questions answered. Below are some common questions and answers regarding imaging scan safety.

Do medical imaging scans involve radiation exposure? Some scans including x-rays, CT scans, PET scans and mammograms involve radiation exposure. Ultrasounds and MRI’s do not expose a patient to radiation.  

How much radiation am I exposed to during a medical imaging scan? Radiation is measured in millisieverts. Various medical imaging scans expose an individual to different doses of radiation. But the exact dose of radiation may also depend on the size of the body part being examined. Also, the radiation risk to different organs and tissues from imaging scans varies.  It’s also important to understand, you are exposed to trace levels of radiation from everyday sources, such as drinking water, natural gas, cigarette smoke and soil. To put radiation risk into context; experts estimate that the average person is exposed to about 300 millisieverts of radiation from everyday sources each year. A typical chest x-ray exposes a person to about ten millisieverts while a head CT exposes someone to about 200 millisieverts.

Is it safe to have a medical imaging scan during pregnancy? Some medical imaging scans that do not involve radiation, such as ultrasounds, are considered safe during pregnancy. Other diagnostic tests including CT scans or x-rays do expose a woman to radiation and may pose a slight risk to a developing baby. But the risk to the fetus also depends on the part of the body being scanned. For example, a head CT is less of a risk than an abdominal CT during pregnancy. Also, in some situations, the risk may be worth the clinical benefit to provide an immediate diagnosis.  

Are children more sensitive to radiation than adults? Children are more sensitive to radiation exposure than adults, in part because they are still developing. But most radiology facilities adjust radiation exposure parameters based on a child’s size. It’s also important to remember, that not all medical imaging scans involve radiation.

Does contrast used in some medical imaging scans cause side effects? Different types of contrast materials are sometimes used in imaging scans, such as iodine-based and barium contrast. Contrast can improve the visibility of specific tissue, organs and blood vessels, which helps with diagnosis. Contrast is considered safe and most people tolerate it well.  Side effects may include a metallic taste in your mouth, a brief sensation of warmth and nausea. In rare instances, an allergic reaction can develop.

Is there such a thing as having too many medical imaging scans? The concerns with radiation exposure is an increased risk of developing cancer later in life. There is not a set limit on how many medical imaging scans a person can have in their lifetime.  Each time a scan is recommended, it’s important to weigh the risks versus the benefits and determine if an alternative scan, which does not involve radiation exposure can be used as effectively. 

What is done to reduce radiation exposure during scans?

The exact protocols and steps taken to reduce radiation exposure may vary. In general, radiology centers can customize radiation doses according to the body part being scanned, as well as a patient’s age and weight. A lead vest should be worn over the abdomen to prevent any harmful effects to a developing baby. Additionally, pediatric protocols should be used when scanning children.


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NOTE: iRadiologyCare Inc. does not claim any accuracy, correctness or completeness of the above information. This information given above is for knowledge purposes only. It should not be construed as a medical advise. Please consult your doctor or medical care specialist for detailed and correct medical advise. iRadiologyCare Inc. will not be liable for any issues arising because of use of the above information.