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Reducing Radiation from Medical X-rays

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Ask if a protective shield can be used. If you or your children are getting an X-ray, ask whether a lead apron or other shield should be used.

Ask your dentist if he/she uses the faster (E or F) speed film for X-rays. It costs about the same as the conventional D speed film and offers similar benefits with a lower radiation dose. Using digital imaging detectors instead of film further reduces radiation dose.

Know your X-ray history. "Just as you may keep a list of your medications with you when visiting the doctor, keep a list of your imaging records, including dental X-rays," says Ohlhaber. When an X-ray is taken, fill out the card with the date and type of exam, referring physician, and facility and address where the images are kept. Show the card to your health care professionals to avoid unnecessary duplication of X-rays of the same body part. Keep a record card for everyone in your family.

FDA's Role

FDA works to reduce radiation doses to the public while preserving image quality for an accurate exam by

  • establishing performance standards for radiation-emitting products, recommending good practices, and conducting educational activities with health professionals, scientists, industry, and consumers to encourage the safe use of medical X-rays and minimize unnecessary exposures
  • working with professional groups and industry to develop international safety standards that build dose-reduction technologies into various procedures and types of radiological equipment
  • working with states to help them annually inspect mammography facilities, test mammography equipment (X-ray machines to help detect breast cancer), and ensure that facilities adhere to the Mammography Quality Standards Act, which establishes standards for radiation dose, personnel, equipment, and image quality
  • monitoring industry technological advances that reduce radiation doses. Equipment manufacturers have already incorporated several advances to decrease the dose in newer machines that perform CT, which is considered the gold standard for diagnosing many diseases but also contributes greatly to the collective radiation dose to the U.S. population.
  • participating in "Image Gently," a national initiative to educate parents and health care professionals about the special precautions required for children who get X-rays. (Children are more sensitive to medical X-ray radiation than adults.)

Medical X-rays: How Much Radiation Are You Getting?

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