Hello. I am 36 years old now and have had undiagnosed illness for years. I have had a few CT scans, 3 nuclear stress tests, a few x-rays, ultrasounds, MRIs, and a combined CT abdomen/pelvis/chest (300 mGycm). I’m worried about radiation exposure. Does this sound a lot to you and can you please break the exposure levels down to me in layman’s terms?

Not all imaging procedures use “ionizing” radiation, which is the type of radiation that has the potential to cause harm when received in high amounts. The ultrasound and MRI procedures you’ve had are examples of non-ionizing procedures, so there is no concern about radiation effects.

Your CT scans, nuclear scans, and radiographs (x-rays) used fairly small amounts of ionizing radiation to produce images. The radiation dose level that you provided for your CT scan of the chest/abdomen/pelvis (300 mGycm) is extremely low compared to national averages for that (very common) imaging exam. The information obtained from medically-necessary imaging like CT scanning, nuclear imaging, and x-rays is often very beneficial to medical diagnosis and patient outcomes. The small amount of ionizing radiation used in medical imaging has not been scientifically proven to cause any harm, and if there is any long-term risk, then it is believed to be extremely small. If radiation exposures are separated by weeks or months, then the body's innate ability to repair DNA damage will go into action, further reducing the small theoretical risk.

There is no limit on the amount of medical imaging a patient can receive. Each imaging exam is ordered based on the patient's situation at that particular time, without regard to their radiation exposure history. This is good, because it means that a patient should not be denied a potentially life-preserving imaging exam just because they may have had prior imaging. With modern imaging equipment, the amount of radiation used to produce images is customized for the patient's body size and for the purpose of the examination.

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