Rays that heal, harm as well

Rays that heal, harm as well

radiation risk

Rays that heal, harm as well

Fourty-one-year-old Debarati Mukherjee was constantly keeping ill. She was struggling with morning sickness, weight gain issues, breast pain and had stopped menstruating. She visited one of the top-notch hospitals of Delhi where doctors advised her a battery of X-Rays. Post several X-Rays and treatment, when the symptoms didn’t subside, she consulted a neighbourhood doctor who simply asked: ‘Have you considered a pregnancy?’

In her forties, Debarati was least expecting to be pregnant, but thanks to the series of X-Rays, her last chance at it was also gone. It was later found that the symptoms were indeed of pregnancy, but due to the wrongly recommended X-Rays, her foetus was destroyed. Worse, she was told that repeated radiation had badly damaged her system, so much so that she would never be able to conceive in future either.

X-Ray, meaning electromagnetic radiation passed through the body to detect anomalies in bones and tissue, has long been considered a medical boon. Doctors, these days, use it not only to identify fractures but also view and monitor joint infections, arthritis, artery blockages and even abdominal pain.

However, as it happens with scientific tools, there is a flip side as well. The ionizing radiation of X-Rays is capable of causing changes in the human cell damaging the DNA chain. So if care is not taken, X-Rays can cause cancerous growth in the affected body part or even genetic defects in your progeny. Doctors advise keeping a tab on the number of X-Rays and CT scans you are undergoing and informing your radiologist about the same.

Dr Vijay Gupta, Radiologist, Fortis Hospital, Noida, says, “One X-Ray of the chest produces .06 ml sieverts of radiation. The maximum amount of radiation exposure allowed to a person in a year is 5 ml sieverts. So one can safely go in for up to 80 chest X-Rays in a year. However, a mammography produces a high .01 ml sieverts of radiation, so we do not recommend it to any woman less than 40 years or more than once in a year.”

“Similarly, a head CT scan, which again uses X-Rays, would expose you to 1 ml sieverts of radiation and a full body scan would deliver a strong 8 ml sieverts of ionising rays. So even one CT scan in a year is a risk. We do not expect our patients to remember all of this nor is an X-Ray or CT scan avoidable when a medical situation demands. So, always remember when and how many X-Rays and CT scans you have undergone and inform us before such a test.”

Dr Sourabh Agarwal, consultant radiologist, Columbia Asia hospital, Ghaziabad, says, “There is a board outside every radiology room saying: ‘If you are pregnant, please inform us.’ Consider every possibility of being pregnant before going for an X-Ray cause it is very harmful for an unborn baby. Even with kids, X-Rays are always performed with lead shields over the reproductive organs so as to rule out any chances of genetic manipulation. Lastly, never undergo an X-Ray of your own volition. Do it only when a doctor recommends.”

Other than these precautions which the general public needs to maintain, there are several measures which the government needs to take. Dr Rajesh Kapur, president, Indian Radiological And Imaging Association, says, “Clinics with X-Ray facilities are mushrooming like a small scale industry. Most of them do not follow safety regulations regarding equipment upkeep, the dose of radiation required in each case and avoiding radiation leakage, as recommended by the Atomic Energy Regulation Board.”

“The government must do something about this. X-Ray tests are very beneficial, but only when care is maintained by both the doctors and patients.”

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