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How Much Medical Radiation Exposure is Bad for Your Health?


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The effects of medical radiation and its safety remains one of the more controversial subjects in healthcare. Despite the large amount of help imaging procedures can provide, some concerns regarding the risks associated with radiation have arisen.

Let us explore the current state of medical radiation and the risks associated with it before examining alternative imaging techniques.

How Much Radiation is Too Much?

The simple answer to this question is that any additional radiation results in an increased chance of developing complications from radiation. While students will be familiar with risk and reward in medical procedures, the risk with traditional medical diagnostic procedures can be circumvented with new techniques.

As radiation levels approach just 50 to 100 times the radiation levels of background radiation exposure, patients experience a dramatically higher risk of developing conditions like cancer.

The problem with medical radiation pertains to the way it is delivered to the body. It must be strong enough to pass through the entire body, which in turn means that even the least harmless of medical radiation can be potentially dangerous to the long-term health of patients.

The Risk of Medical Radiation

In 2011, the American College of Radiology released a statement on the FDA's call to reduce radiation in medical imaging. They confirmed that side effects from medical radiation are rare, but warrant enough attention to seek alternative imaging methods.

The main risk of common imaging techniques like x-rays revolves around the way they deliver radiation to the body. Concentrated doses of radiation reach far deeper into the body than they would if they merely hit the skin like background radiation or UV radiation normally would.

Smaller x-rays, such as those for chest x-rays, contain six times the radiation of normal background radiation. Larger x-rays contain 181 times the radiation per image.

On their own, these x-rays contain relatively minimal additional risk. The problem arrives with how medical technicians use these x-rays.

Multiple Images Mean Higher Risks

The problem with traditional x-rays is that they tend to come in series. One chest examination may carry six to ten concentrated x-ray images, which means that the patient is exposed to up to 60 times the radiation they would be exposed to in a typical day from ambient sources.

The problem becomes even greater with larger images, which may further require additional x-rays to thoroughly diagnose problems.

Technicians tend to be liberal when they use x-rays. They will expose patients to enough x-rays until they have a clear diagnosis.

This leads to a situation where 10 percent of patients are exposed to a high amount of radiation each year. Their risk of developing conditions associated with radiation, such as cancer or even radiation poisoning, is much higher than it would be otherwise.

Seeking Alternative Ways of Diagnosing Health Conditions

The first step in reducing the amount of medical radiation patients receive is to make x-rays more sensitive. Digital x-rays are one of the more favorable approach due to their similarity to traditional x-rays.

The second step is to eliminate x-rays completely. Techniques like medical sonography can provide an alternative way to diagnose issues in soft tissues, but these techniques require additional training for technicians. Colleges like ADU Online are helping technicians acquire a bachelor’s in sonography degree online to make this possible.

The last step is to look for additional ways to diagnose conditions. Blood tests are particularly favorable for eliminating the need for many types of soft tissue diagnoses. Intravenous imaging techniques may also be used to reduce the need for diagnostic imaging, which in turn keeps patients safer.

Revolutionizing the Way Patients are Diagnosed

Despite the relatively safe nature of radioactive diagnostic imaging, there are still certain risks that patients will be exposed to. Reducing these risks requires medical diagnostic imaging to change considerably, both in terms of techniques and technology.

This change should be a natural step, as new techniques should offer more precise diagnostic imaging with fewer undesirable side effects. Healthcare will become better, safer and more efficient for patients when this happens.


Anica is a professional content and copywriter who graduated from the University of San Francisco. She loves dogs, the ocean, and anything outdoor-related. She was raised in a big family, so she's used to putting things to a vote. Also, cartwheels are her specialty. You can connect with Anica here.