DALLAS, Texas – Before undergoing heart imaging procedures involving radiation, healthcare providers should help patients understand why the procedure is needed and its potential benefits and risks, including risks related to radiation exposure, according to a new scientific statement in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation.
“With technological improvements, medical imaging has become an increasingly vital tool in diagnosing and treating patients with heart disease, but the rising use of the tests has led to increasing radiation exposure over the past two decades,” said Reza Fazel, M.D., M.Sc., chair of the writing committee for the statement, and cardiologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. “Heart imaging procedures account for almost 40 percent of the radiation exposure from medical imaging.”
Effective communication between patients and healthcare providers is important, especially among patients who may have an overstated fear of radiation. The statement recommends that before moving forward with an imaging test that uses radiation, clinicians should initiate a discussion with patients to address their questions and concerns, and openly discuss questions such as:
• How will the test help diagnose or treat your heart problem?
• Are there other techniques to get the information without using radiation?
• How much radiation will you be exposed to?
• How could that affect your chance of developing cancer later in life, and how does that compare to the risk from other common activities?
The most commonly used heart and blood vessel imaging procedures using radiation are nuclear stress tests, cardiac CT (computed tomography) scans, and fluoroscopy (a real-time X-ray used to guide catheter and device placement during heart catheterization and tests for heart rhythm abnormalities).
“In general, the radiation-related risk of any imaging test to an individual patient is very small and, when the test is clinically appropriate, the benefits of the test typically far outweigh any potential risks,” Fazel said.