X-rays are an essential tool that saves countless lives and nearly everybody needs to have them at some point in time. However, we should all be aware of important x-ray precautions when undergoing these examinations. X-ray images, or radiographs, can be used by healthcare practitioners to detect bone fractures, injuries, infections, tumors, and dental problems. An x-ray machine passes x-ray beams through a part of the body to produce a still photograph of the internal structures. Because the effects of ionizing radiation are cumulative, x-ray imaging carries a tiny risk of cancer, or other health problems developing later in life.
X-Rays: The Risks and Benefits
If you are required to have x-rays, it’s sensible to keep the risks and benefits in perspective. With a few simple x-ray safety precautions, you shouldn’t have any reason to worry about exposure.
What Are the Risks?
- X-rays can cause mutations in DNA, which may be precursors to cancer. For this reason, x-rays are classed as a carcinogen, but the risk of harm is extremely low.
- Radiation from x-rays can harm a developing fetus, so always advise your doctor or radiographer if you are pregnant.
- Children are more sensitive to the negative effects of x-rays as they are still growing and developing. Special pediatric techniques are used to minimize the radiation dose.
- Certain parts of the body, such as the thyroid gland and reproductive organs, are more susceptible to the harmful effects of ionizing radiation.
What Are the Benefits?
- Medical imaging using x-rays has had a significant impact on human life, where it has revolutionized diagnostic methods.
- X-rays give very rapid results. Many potentially life-threatening conditions, such as blocked blood vessels or serious infections can be detected instantly, and treatment can commence without delay.
- Portable x-ray scanners can be set up rapidly to help patients coming into emergency rooms and dental practices. With advances in modern technology, the images can be sent directly to a computer and viewed on a monitor.
- X-rays allow clinicians to accurately pinpoint a target area to identify the source of pain, monitor the progression of the disease, or assess how well a prescribed treatment is working.
X-Ray Radiation Safety Precautions for Patients
- X-ray imaging of any kind should be limited unless it’s essential for diagnosis or treatment.
- It’s important to remain very still during the imaging process, to avoid blurring and unnecessary repetition.
- Avoid x-rays of the pelvic or abdominal area if you’re pregnant unless absolutely necessary and there are no other options.
- Lead protective garments may be worn over the torso and thyroid while you’re being imaged if these aren’t part of the target area. You can request that these be shielded using special protective garments. Barrier Technologies are specialist manufacturers of radiation protection apparel such as thyroid collars and x-ray aprons.
- If a small child is being x-rayed, any adult required to hold or assist them should be protected with suitable radiation shielding apparel.
Q: How safe are x-rays?
A: Modern advances ensure that the minimum dose and tightest beam possible are used to get a good image. Any adverse effects from x-ray radiation are exceedingly rare, but the possibility of genetic effects exists.
Q: What happens after my x-ray is done?
A: A standard x-ray doesn’t have any after-effects. Unless you require emergency treatment, you can go about your normal activities. A radiologist will examine the images and send a report to your doctor, who will then contact you within a few days.
Q: What can I do to limit my x-ray exposure?
A: There are three things you can do. Firstly, ask if there’s another lower-risk procedure available. Secondly, ask if you can use protective shieldings, such as a thyroid collar or lead apron. Thirdly, keep track of your x-ray history using a record card, to avoid any unnecessary duplication.
Q: What are the possible long-term consequences of x-rays?
A: X-rays can have two types of long-term consequences. Stochastic (chance) effects include cancer or DNA mutations that can be passed along to your offspring. Non-stochastic (deterministic) effects such as skin damage or cataracts are very rare in x-ray patients. The exception is a fetal abnormality, which is why you shouldn’t have pelvic or abdominal x-rays if you are pregnant.
Q: How much radiation is acceptable?
A: Although there’s no set limit on radiation doses to patients, 1 mSv (millisievert) is the annual total effective dose limit for members of the public. Any x-rays must be justified by weighing the benefits versus the risks. A principle is known as ALARA – As Low As Reasonably Achievable – guides practice. Any x-ray that has no medical purpose is inappropriate, no matter how small the dose.
Q: What is the radiation dose for my procedure?
A: The table lists approximate radiation doses in millisieverts for some common procedures. For reference, 0.01 mSv is the average daily dose from natural background radiation.
Q: Is there an alternative investigation that doesn’t use x-rays?
Ultrasound is excellent for imaging the pelvis and abdomen, particularly in pregnancy. It’s also used for examining breasts, testes, and soft tissues of the neck and limbs. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is used for scanning the head, spine, joints, and vascular system.
Barrier Technologies is a leading manufacturer of radiation protection products. Our team of experts constantly researches and develops innovative products that minimize the risks associated with radiography. Knowing the x-ray safety precautions used to protect patients during the testing procedure will reassure you that you’re protected from any harmful radiation. The use of the right x-ray protection garments such as our thyroid shield and x-ray protective aprons will help minimize any potential long-term side effects of radiation. We invite you to browse our website and catalogs of radiation protection apparel and accessories. Contact us here with your queries or requirements.