It’s Time To Ask Your Cardiologist About Radiation ExposureheadingContent

Posted on February 20, 2015

medical outline image of a heart with heart beat going through it If you have been evaluated by a cardiologist, then there is a good chance you have experienced some form of imaging. So much of the technology used to view the heart involves X-rays. If your symptoms were worrisome enough, you may even have had a heart catheterization using a form of X-ray called fluoroscopy, which allows doctors to image the heart while it is beating. High X-ray exposures have been linked to radiation burns and cancer risks. While there is no amount of radiation that can be deemed safe, it is generally well accepted that less is always better. The next time your doctor recommends a procedure like this, make sure you inquire about your exposure potential.

As a cardiac electrophysiologist, I perform complex procedures on the heart for many different heart rhythm disorders. Ablation is a procedure where catheters are inserted through vessels in the groin and up to the heart. The abnormal rhythms are then localized and destroyed, curing patients of their arrhythmias. However, what many patients don’t understand is how the doctor can see what they are doing. It’s done by a combination of fluoroscopy, ultrasound and 3D imaging.medical outline of a human with the heart glowing red in the chest

The advancements in 3D imaging allow doctors to use little or no fluoroscopy. That’s right, an entire procedure of the heart without any X-ray. The average fluoroscopy time for many doctors for an atrial fibrillation ablation, one of the more common ablations performed, is about 20-25 minutes. It’s not unusual for some procedures to last two to three times that long. That’s about 100 X-rays or one-to-two CT scans, for the procedure alone.

Having performed many of these procedures, I am able to operate routinely with minimal radiation exposure lasting one to two minutes or less. For some patients, it’s possible to achieve zero X-ray exposure while still fixing the problem. With the use of these 3D imaging progressions, with virtually no fluoroscopy, I am able to see the heart and treat the arrhythmia.

With X-ray exposures being linked to radiation burns and cancer risks, finding ways to limit radiation in the operating room is beneficial to the patient. So, the next time your doctor recommends a procedure where numerous X-rays will be taken, be sure to ask the doctor about your potential exposure.