Prior to undergoing heart imaging procedures which also include the use of radiation, healthcare providers should assist patients with understanding why the procedure is required and its potential benefits and risks, especially risks connected to radiation exposure.
“With technological improvements, medical imaging has become an increasingly vital tool in diagnosing and treating patients with heart disease, but the rising use of the tests has led to increasing radiation exposure over the past two decades,” said Reza Fazel, M.D., M.Sc., chair of the writing committee for the statement and cardiologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. “Heart imaging procedures account for almost 40 percent of the radiation exposure from medical imaging.”
Effective communication between patients and healthcare providers is important, especially among patients who may have an overstated fear of radiation. The statement recommends that before moving forward with an imaging test that uses radiation, clinicians should initiate a discussion with patients to address their questions and concerns, and openly discuss questions such as:
- How will the test help diagnose or treat your my heart problem?
- Are there other techniques to get the information without using radiation?
- How much radiation will you be exposed to?
- How could that affect your chance of developing cancer later in life, and how does that compare to the risk from other common activities?
“In general, the radiation-related risk of any imaging test to an individual patient is very small and, when the test is clinically appropriate, the benefits of the test typically far outweigh any potential risks,” Fazel said.
With the exception of mammography, there is no federal regulation of radiation dose for medical tests, leaving the appropriate use of heart imaging in the hands of clinicians and imaging facilities. In 2009, the American Heart Association called for judicious use of the tests and gave general recommendations for their use. The current statement builds on that advisory by providing practical recommendations for enhancing radiation safety in heart imaging.
The new statement also provides guidance for training professionals who order or administer cardiac imaging tests.