X-rays are known for being an important diagnostic imaging tool used by radiologists to produce internal images of various structures. While x-rays are helpful in many ways, they are also known for producing potentially harmful radiation which can bring up concerns for patients. We understand your concerns and hope to offer more information on x-rays and the effects they have on the body.
The Rundown on X-rays and Radiation
X-rays are forms of radiant energy, like light or radio waves. Unlike light, x-rays can penetrate the body using radiation, which allows a radiologist to produce pictures of internal structures. Different areas of your body are more sensitive to radiation. Radiation (if there’s too much) can cause an increase in risks of cancer. Because of this, we get a lot of patients who are worried about how much radiation they might be exposed to during the procedure. In reality? Not very much. To put in perspective, we’re comparing the radiation exposure of medical imaging procedures to those that you’re exposed to in everyday areas of your life.
Radiation in Your Daily Life and Other Procedures
We don’t realize this, but each year we receive radiation from the sun and other naturally occurring radioactive materials in space that reach the earth. People up in the mountains in Colorado receive 1.5mSv more radiation per year than those at sea level. The milliservant or mSv is the scientific unit of measurement for radiation dose, commonly referred to as effective dose. Typically, people in the U.S. receive 3mSv per year naturally.
Different imaging procedures have different levels of radiation. For example, a CAT Scan of the abdomen and pelvis includes about 10mSv (that is about 3 years worth of natural radiation), while a mammogram has about .4 mSv (equaling about 7 weeks of natural radiation). A simple x-ray of the spine equals a year and a half of natural radiation at 1.5 mSv. Lastly, a x-ray Extremity only gives an average adult .001 mSv of radiation or about 3 hours.
Many things we don’t think of also include radiation. To put it in perspective, the added dose of radiation during a coast-to-coast round trip flight in a commercial airplane is about 0.03 mSv. The higher up you fly, the more radiation the flight entails. The largest source of background radiation comes from radon gas in our homes (about 2 mSv per year). Furthermore, people in the U.S. and other countries are paying for extra radiation. Yep, that’s right, tanning beds are marketed to people despite the fact that they include known radiation that is worse than 3 hours of direct UV sunlight.
While these procedures can seem harmful, they are usually harmless in small doses. Consult your doctor first before undergoing any of these procedures and consider the risks involved. Often, the benefits involved with undergoing these diagnostic imaging scans outweigh the radiation risks. If you are in need of an MRI, fortunately for you they are radiation free and performed by our center.