During emergency care, trauma patients may be exposed to radiation levels equivalent to 1,005 chest X-rays, researchers report. This is high enough to increase their cancer risk.
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Researchers analyzed the records of 86 patients who came to a level one trauma center during a 3-month period in 2006. More than half were motor vehicle crash victims and the median age was 32. All patients met hospital standards for the less acute major triage criteria. Patients had many X-rays and computed tomography scans. On average, the trauma patients received 40 millisieverts of radiation. For comparison, the average American absorbs 3 millisieverts of background radiation per year.
Although thorough diagnostic testing is essential during trauma assessment and care, researchers urge clinicians to consider potential long-term adverse reactions and limit X-rays or use alternatives if appropriate. For example, ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging don't use radiation.
Winslow JE, et al., Quantitative assessment of diagnostic radiation doses in adult blunt trauma patients, Annals of Emergency Medicine, published online March 7, 2008.