Published on May 28, 2017
Image credit: Rensselaer/Aiping Ding
Given the alarming trend of obesity and the long list of associated health risks, it is no surprise that over the past few decades there’s been an increasing prevalence of obese individuals presenting themselves at hospital emergency rooms and entering radiology clinics in need of medical imaging for acute and chronic conditions. Radiology plays an important role in the care of the obese, but the entire imaging process becomes more difficult when an obese patient is involved. Most medical imaging equipment is designed with people of an average build in mind. Exams that would be considered simple to perform on an average sized patient need to be adapted in order to obtain quality images of obese individuals. As a result, these patients 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. Thick layers of fat . . . of this:
. . . make it difficult for the x-ray beam to penetrate the patient; when regular settings on the scanners were set, blurry images were produced. In order to assure there were enough x-ray photons passing through the body to form a good image, the power (technically referred to as ‘tube potential’) had to be turned up.
The Rensselaer study results showed that the internal organs of obese men receive 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 your lifetime.
Reference: You can view the complete results of the Rensselaer study, published April 12, 2012 in the journal, Physics in Medicine & Biology, here.