Been having headaches… or maybe unexplained back pain? Before you know what’s happened, the office is booking you for a CT scan.
It seems that doctors order that test for most any complaint these days!
Sure, in many cases, those scans are very necessary. But in plenty of others, not so much.
While you may have heard that exposure to unnecessary radiation from a CT scan is a bad idea, now, we’re learning that cancer isn’t the only possible health consequence that should concern us.
An international team of scientists has uncovered another frightening risk from that radiation exposure, which often happens “just as a precaution” — and that risk concerns your heart.
And the scariest part is that you don’t have to be radiated until you glow in the dark to set yourself up for some serious, long-term harm.
Affairs of the heart
Millions of CT scans are done every year, and that number is going up and up all the time. Yet, according to a recent study, over a third of these tests aren’t needed in the first place.
Very often, doctors are simply playing it safe so they won’t be sued for malpractice.
But sometimes, trying too hard to “play it safe” can end up making you very sorry.
Researchers from the UK and Germany recently discovered that being exposed to the same amounts of radiation that you would get in just a few CT scans is enough to cause permanent damage to the endothelial cells that line your coronary arteries… and “adversely affect their essential functions.”
What those zaps of radiation can do to these special cells is slow down their production of nitric oxide (NO), which protects the heart by keeping your blood flowing smoothly and circulating everywhere it needs to go. When you don’t have enough NO, your blood pressure rises, your LDL cholesterol can oxidize and your blood platelets can get stickier, which can lead to blood clots.
The researchers also found two other ways CT-scan radiation can damage your heart.
Once damaged, those important endothelial cells can begin to prematurely age and start pumping out something called reactive oxygen species, or ROS — the culprit behind oxidative stress. That can damage your DNA, which means that your cells can lose vital “communication” with each other.
And here’s the kicker — that damage won’t show up right away. It could take years for it to become apparent. And all the while, you could be exposed to more and more unnecessary radiation from additional scans without giving your heart a second thought.
So, the next time your doctor says sends you out for a CT scan (or any other test that exposes you to radiation), ask if the test is really necessary! He may be able to substitute a CT scan with one of the tests that don’t emit ionizing radiation, like an ultrasound or MRI.
And if the scan is indicated, you should then try to find out if you’re getting the lowest effective dose — something your doctor or radiologist should be aware of. The amounts of radiation used in these tests can vary widely — yet, shockingly, there are no established limits (federal or otherwise) about how much radiation you may be exposed to during a CT scan.
If you don’t ask, it’s a crapshoot.
“Low doses of radiation could harm cardiovascular health, study suggests” July 13, 2017, MedicalXpress, medicalxpress.com