So I had this great idea to writeup all these practical tips for patients, not just medical professionals, but the devil’s always in the details. (The details being that I forgot to actually write them.) Better late than never.
Radiology. This is most “imaging” you get: x-rays, CT (aka CAT) scans, MRI scans, ultrasounds. All that jazz. Most radiologists don’t see patients, unless they’re doing some sort of procedure (swallowing contrast or barium, putting contrast or barium up your butt, etc.); there are interventional radiologists, who see patients, but that’s more specialized.
- There are many different imaging studies, and they’re good for different things, so don’t get too concerned if you “only” get an ultrasound to look at your gallbladder.
- I think the main concern most people have about radiology is the radiation they get from a test. While high doses of radiation can be concerning for the risks of new cancers (breast, thyroid, and blood cancers come to mind), your average CT scan or x-ray is a relatively low dose of radiation (and ultrasound and MRIs don’t use radiation, they use sound and magnets, respectively). The fact is (sit down, take a deep breath), you’re getting radiation every day. Seriously! About 360 millirem per year. Do the math, and that’s about 1 mrem per day. A chest x-ray is about 2-4 days’ worth more of radiation (here’s a full list). So that’s 364 mrem per year instead of 360. While there’s no “safe” radiation dosage, as all radiation breaks up DNA and creates free radicals, everything in medicine is a risk-benefit ratio. Everything has a risk, everything has a benefit. The equivalent of getting an abdominal x-ray is like traveling 2500 miles by car (pdf) if you compare risk activities. And if you’re getting an x-ray or scan, we’re concerned you probably have something far more painful or life-threatening going on inside your body, something that’s much more likely to hurt you than the radiation will.
- I should also clear up some confusion about the effects of radiation. There’s two types of effects: linear and threshold. Linear is the cancer–the more radiation you get, the more likely you are to develop cancer. Threshold means that below a certain dose of radiation, you don’t have any side effects, and above it, you start to have effects. These threshold effects are the skin damage, GI tract damage, hair falling out, etc.
I hope that clears things up about radiology, or at least some of the fears and concerns. If you really want a primer on radiation, try this.