Health Library

Radiation Safety

Introduction

People are exposed to radiation from natural sources every day. This radiation comes from naturally occurring sources in the ground, as radon, and also from cosmic radiation. The amount of normal occurring radiation varies depending on where you live. People who live in Colorado receive more radiation than those who live near sea level. To compare, the radiation an individual will receive from a chest X-ray is equal to the amount of radiation exposure an individual would receive in 10 days from our natural surroundings.

X-Rays

X-rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation, along with radio waves and light waves. X-ray has a higher energy level than light waves, and because of this, they can pass through your body. Your body absorbs some X-rays and some X-rays pass through. The amount of X-rays, which pass through your body, depends on the density of the tissue. Tissue, which is denser, like bone or tumors, absorbs more X-rays than skin or other soft tissue.

X-ray exams provide valuable information that assists your physician in making an accurate diagnosis. The decision to have an X-ray exam is medically based upon the benefit of the exam versus the potential risk to the patient from radiation.

X-rays can cause damage in two ways. Damage may be caused by the interaction of an X-ray and the DNA bonds in the nucleus of a patient’s cell. This has a very small probability. The second way, which has a higher probability, an X-ray indirectly produces ion pairs in tissues as it passes through the body. The ion pairs may interact with DNA causing cell damage.

Computed Tomography (CT) Scan

X-ray techniques have been refined which allow us to discover more sophisticated information about our bodies. A Computed Tomography (CT) scanner is a donut-like machine that uses X-rays to image individual cross-sectional slices through the body. The X-rays that penetrate the patient are detected and are constructed into an image by a computer. Computed Tomography (CT) produces images, which are localized, cross-sections, while conventional X-ray produces an image corresponding to tissues on top of each other.

The amount of radiation an individual will receive during a CT scan is more than an ordinary X-ray of the same part, because of the thin, cross-sectional slices. Radiologists and technologists have been trained to use the minimum amount of radiation necessary to obtain the needed results.

Radiation Exposure and Pregnancy

There are radiation-related risks throughout pregnancy that are relative to the stage of pregnancy. The human embryo and fetus is much more sensitive to the effects of radiation exposure than adults. Radiation exposure during the first trimester is significantly more damaging because the embryo’s cells are duplicating at a very rapid pace. During the second trimester, the risk decreases somewhat and is the least damaging in the third trimester.

The health risks associated with radiation to the fetus are cumulative. Risks could include prenatal deaths, physical abnormalities, and mental retardation. Other harmful effects could include the onset of cancer, cataracts, and a decrease in the average life span.

Informing the technologists that you are or might be pregnant is important so that your medical care can be appropriately optimized. The primary goal in performing an examination on a pregnant female utilizing ionizing radiation or X-rays is to facilitate the well being of the mother, and second, the viability and well being of the fetus. All pregnant patients will be evaluated individually by their referring physician and the radiologists.

MRI Safety (Magnetic Resonance)

MRI does not use radiation to produce images. MRI uses magnetic frequencies. Our goal is to maintain a safe MRI environment for our patients and our MR healthcare workers.

MRI screening is crucial to ensure the safety of all those who encounter the MRI environment. All implants and devices will be given special consideration in your safety. All procedures will be followed precisely.

Your environment will be treated with respect and caution by all of our staff. Our staff will monitor your examinations and you will be encouraged to report any unusual sensations. Communication between our patients and the MRI technologist will be ongoing and frequent.

The MRI can be performed through clothing and bones. Scrubs or a hospital gown will need to be worn, without metal fasteners. Please remove metallic objects like hairpins, jewelry, eyeglasses, clocks, hearing aids and removable dental work.

The MRI can appear to be like a short tunnel; a possible issue is the claustrophobia that some patients experience.

If your physician has referred you for an examination during which you will receive an injection of Gadolinium contrast material into a vein, only about 2.4% of patients have an adverse reaction. The most common side effects may be:

  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Rash or hives

These reactions will generally go away within 24 hours. We recommend that you notify your primary care provider if any reactions continue.

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