Posted on August 1, 2017
Image credit: Rensselaer/Ding
Given the alarming trend of obesity and the long list of associated health risks, it is no surprise that an increasing number of overweight and obese individuals are entering radiology clinics. Most medical imaging equipment, however, is designed with people of an average build in mind and not for overweight and obese patients. As a result, they are exposed to higher levels of radiation during routine X-ray and CT scans.
A few years ago, researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute were the first to calculate exactly how much additional radiation obese patients receive when undergoing a routine CT scan.
A scan of the chest, abdomen and pelvic area of obese patients showed that organs deep within the abdomen received 59% less radiation compared to normal weight patients. Because of the additional fat layers, when regular settings on the scanners were set, blurry images were produced. So, in order to assure there were enough x-ray photons passing through the body to form a good image, the power had to be turned up.
To get good images from obese patients, the RPI study results showed that the internal organs of obese men received 62% more radiation during a CT scan than those of normal weight men. For obese women, it was an increase of 59%.
Of course, the risk associated with a radiation dose from a single CT scan or X-ray is relatively small. However, if you are overweight or obese, you are at a much greater risk for a long list of serious medical diagnoses, requiring more imaging . . . and radiation exposure is cumulative over a patient’s lifetime.