What Are the Dangers of CAT Scans?


Computerized axial tomographic (CAT) scans combine X-rays with computer technology to show details of internal organs and diagnose abnormalities. CAT scans are widely used because they are noninvasive and provide different views of organs and areas of the body, assisting in health assessment. However, risks and dangers are associated with CAT scans due to higher levels of radiation than in earlier diagnostic testing.


The most significant danger related to CAT scans is the effect of radiation. Although background radiation is everywhere---from the sun, rocks, radon gas, foods, and other unavoidable sources---the quantity of radiation given off by a CAT scan is markedly increased. Exposure levels are determined by comparing CAT scans to a chest x-ray, which emits the equivalent of 2 ½ days of background radiation. A head CAT scan gives off a hundred times that dose and a scan of the abdomen is five times higher. A 64-slice CAT scan renders up to twice the number of a head scan, and is the equivalent of receiving 5 to 7 years of background radiation in only 1 hour.


CAT scans are expensive and have been heavily marketed to consumers so that medical facilities can recoup the cost of the machine. Insurance companies do not always pay for CAT scans, and patients often incur the high cost of these tests themselves.


Patients can be mislead by CAT scan results. A scan with no unusual findings does not mean that a patient should continue with lifestyle risks that initially caused the health issue. A false negative may also result if a health problem didn't appear in the scan or was misdiagnosed. The amount of radiation emitted also affects other testing methods by way of false readings. Abnormal CAT scan readings may lead to unnecessary medical procedures as well.


CAT scan risks are becoming more apparent the longer this testing method is used. Patients presenting with no sign of disease are exposed to unnecessary radiation during the scan, which can lead to cancer and other health issues. Radiation exposure accrues over a lifetime, so children are at a greater risk because high doses of radiation during childhood affect development and increase exposure levels.


Discuss all possible risks and dangers of CAT scans with your doctor to avoid unnecessary radiation exposure. Inquire about alternate diagnostic procedures that are less dangerous and expensive.

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