How Safe are CT Scans for Children?

Every parents wants what is best for his or her child; this is especially true when it comes to medical care. While modern medical tests can help doctors and parents to make medical decisions, there are some risks to many medical tests. Computed Tomography, also known as a CT or CAT scan, is a medical test consisting of numerous rapid x-rays that are processed through a computer program to create three dimensional images of various parts of the body. CT scans are of most use for diagnosing problems in the soft tissue of the body that is not easily seen in traditional x-rays.

Risk From CT Scans

CT scans use radiation that passes through the body to create an image of the inner parts of the body. While the amount of radiation used to create a CT scan is slight, it is not insignificant. Even small amounts of radiation can increase a person’s chances of developing cancer. Cancer from radiation exposure generally develops over long periods of time. This is another factor that makes radiation exposure a cause for concern as children have many years of life ahead of them for cancer to develop. Though the risk is less serious than cancer, dyes used as part of many CT scans can sometimes cause allergic reactions and rarely other medical problems.

Minimizing Risks

Though there is only a small amount of risk from the radiation exposure from a CT scan, there are some things that can be done to reduce the risk even further. One is for the radiologist to adjust the CT machine to the proper settings for the height and weight of the child. In simplest terms, small bodied children need less radiation to create a detailed CT scan image than a larger bodied adult. Keeping machines well maintained and updated also reduces radiation exposure as newer machines need to use less radiation to produce useful images. PACS radiology, picture archiving and communication software, also help to reduce the number of needed tests by making it easier for medical professionals to share CT scan images.

Optional CT Scans

In this litigious society, many doctors and their insurance companies want tests performed as a way to prevent misdiagnosing a patient. Many parents also want tests in order to immediately determine the cause of a child’s problem. However, the cumulative exposure of multiple CT scans and other radiation exposures has risks that should not be taken lightly. For example, a parent may insist on a CT scan for a child with an unexplained headache. However, having a CT scan for a headache in the absence of other severe symptoms, such as loss of balance or seizure, may only result in the child receiving an unnecessary exposure to radiation.

CT Scans Are Scary

Though the CT scan process is not as long or intimidating as it used to be, the process still causes fear in many children and even adults. The primary problem caused by the fear of the procedure is that the patient must remain motionless. If a child becomes frightened and moves during a critical part of the scan, the scan may need to be immediately repeated to get a clear result. The good news is that patients having a CT scan can use headphones to listen to music. Children can also bring stuffed animals and other sources of comfort. The dye injection used in many CT scans can also be scary for children. The dye injection may produce a flushed feeling that can also be concerning for children and parents, through the experience is normal and generally quickly passes away. For a child who may be traumatized by the experience, it may be best to only use a CT scan in situations where there is no other option.

While there is little health risk from radiation exposure during a CT scan, it is important that the tests are only used when necessary. By working with doctors and other medical professionals, parents can help their children to get the best medical care possible while also helping to protect them from the potential side effects of unneeded medical tests.

 

By: Jennifer Livingston

 

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