X-ray exposure

Getting X-ray scans often could put you at a health risk

Written by Ishita Yadav | Published:March 29, 2009 11:41 am

Getting X-ray scans often could put you at a health risk
When 35-year-old Shivani Malik broke her leg a few months ago,she would go in for an X-ray every two weeks to check if it was healing. “My leg was in a cast and I felt I needed to know how much it had healed,” she says. After six weeks and three X-rays,Malik realised that her skin had started peeling off from the ankle and she was losing hair. It’s then that her doctor told her to stop getting X-ray scans. 

X-rays are electromagnetic radiations in a wave form just like gamma,ultraviolet,infrared and radio waves— but with a different wavelength. “X-rays,for instance,can pass through wood and the human body just like light can pass through glass,” says Dr Sneh Bhargava,radiologist,Sitaram Bhartia Research Institute,New Delhi. 

While there’s no way X-rays can be avoided completely,getting them done regularly can be extremely harmful. “In the human body,there are three systems which are affected by X-rays. First is the genitalia,which,if affected,may have a negative effect on children. X-rays are also very bad for the skin. It can result in skin rashes,hair loss and,in some cases,skin cancer. The third system that is affected is the blood,both red and white corpuscles,” says Dr Bhargava.
If the red blood cells are affected,one can suffer from anaemia. Damage to white blood cells can weaken your immune system and make your body more vulnerable to various diseases. 

Doctors say that an X-ray should not be repeated before three months. “A patient should only be exposed to an X-ray when more information is needed than what a normal physical exam can give,” says Dr Mahesh S Malangi,radiologist,Apollo Hospitals,Bangalore. In some cases,however,you will have to make an exception. For instance,if you suffer from bronchitis or other lung diseases,your doctor might need you to go in for regular lung X-rays. If you have broken a bone,though,it’s not required to go in for an X-ray regularly. “We only suggest regular X-rays to people when we want to check how their body is reacting to medication. There are some paranoid patients who insist on getting an X-ray every week just to see how much their broken arm or leg has healed. That is unnecessary and by doing so,they only end up harming their body,” says Dr Malangi.  

X-rays should be avoided completely during pregnancy as it can be very harmful for the foetus. “Everything you need to know about the baby can be found out through an ultrasound. If the mother needs to go in for an X-ray herself,the abdomen should be covered by a sheet made of lead,” says Dr Bhargava. They are also more harmful to children than they are to adults. “Radiations such as ultrasound and magnetic resonance imagine (MRI) are safer and should be used in children,” says Dr Malangi.

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