Excessive Radiation For Heart Attack Patients

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American Heart Association statistics indicate that radiation exposure from medical tests has increased sevenfold since 1980.

Procedures for heart attack patients account for approximately a third of all imaging tests done.  Usually about four tests are ordered during their hospital stay—CT scans, chest X-rays and cardiac catheterizations.

However, these procedures expose each patient to roughly 14.5 millisieverts of radiation before going home…equal to about 725 chest X-rays!  That’s five times as much as the average person experiences annually and nearly one-third the maximum radiation dose allowable for a nuclear power plant worker reports Science News.

The first extensive study to examine cumulative radiation exposure for heart attack patients is a wake up call for both physicians and patients.

“We certainly don’t want to be alarmist,” said Prashant Kaul, a fellow in cardiovascular medicine at the Duke University Medical Center.  Until now, physicians did not have a sense of how this radiation exposure accumulates, Kaul said at the November 16 American Heart Association meeting in Durham.  He continued, “We’re trying to change the way people think about radiation.”

Thomas Gerber of the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida said the biological effects of radiation are unknown.  “Nobody has been able to show that patients at the level of exposure we’re talking about have an increased risk of cancer. We do what we think is necessary for the patient” after a heart attack, he said.

Kaul mentioned that most physicians don’t think about accumulative radiation exposure when ordering tests.  “We’re not suggesting important tests be withheld, but we want to be sure we’re ordering the right tests for the right patients.”  There might be situations when repetition is unnecessary or similar information could be obtained another way.

The researchers analyzed data from more than 64,000 patients treated in 49 hospitals throughout the United States over three plus years to reach their conclusions.  Although the cancer risk from this amount of radiation is unclear, they said the information ‘should be sobering for physicians and patients.’