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Oct 10, 2014

Keeping Radiation to a Minimum for Heart Patients

With radiation exposure a hot topic in recent years, here are strategies for enhancing radiation safety in heart imaging.

The American Heart Association recently shared approaches for minimizing radiation exposure from heart imaging, based on a six-fold increase in medical imaging in the U.S. since the 1980s.

Radiation exposure has become a hot topic in recent years, as the use of medical imaging has drastically increased in the United States. Many radiation doses from tests have decreased in the past few decades, but all tests involving radiation carry both risks and benefits. That’s why the American Heart Association released a statement on strategies to prevent unnecessary radiation exposure in heart patients.

Published in the journal Circulation, this statement focused on three key approaches to enhancing radiation safety in medical imaging:


  • Education: All healthcare providers performing cardiac imaging should know which tests use radiation and have a full understanding of techniques to minimize radiation doses. Patients should also be fully informed about the risks and benefits associated with potential imaging tests to make the best possible decision regarding their health.

  • Justification: Doctors must ensure that each imaging procedure is both necessary and appropriate based on the patient’s individual needs. Avoiding unnecessary tests can help minimize both radiation exposure and the potential risks associated with such tests.

  • Optimization: Once a test is deemed necessary, doctors must ensure that radiation exposure is kept as low as possible. Over the years, the necessary radiation doses have decreased for certain tests and it’s important to keep exposure as low as possible for each test.

In addition to these key approaches, experts also encourage research that continually expands our ability to achieve safer imaging techniques. By implementing strategies outlined in their most recent statement and conducting future research, experts hope to protect patients by minimizing radiation exposure from medical imaging.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Is there a safe level of radiation exposure?
  • No. Since there is no known “safe” level of radiation exposure, being exposed to radiation always carries some risk of damage to cells or tissue. However, we’re often exposed low levels of radiation in our everyday lives and in most cases, the risk of getting cancer from low doses of radiation is small.
  • Should I worry about radiation exposure from medical imaging?
  • All medical tests that use radiation carry some health risks, such as a small increased risk for cancer. It’s important to discuss both the risks and benefits associated with imaging tests with your doctor before undergoing tests that use radiation.

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