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Radiation Safety in Emergency Medicine: Balancing the Benefits and Risks

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      The use of computed tomography (CT) in emergency departments has increased over several decades, as physicians increasingly depend on imaging for diagnoses. Patients and medical personnel are put at risk due to frequent exposure to and higher levels of radiation, with very little evidence of improvements in outcomes. Here, we explore why CT imaging has a tendency to be overused in emergency departments and the obstacles that medical personnel face in ensuring patient safety. The solution requires cooperation from all emergency care stakeholders as well as the continuous education of doctors on how CT scans help in particular cases.

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      Most cited references 29

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      Validity and reliability of a quantitative computed tomography score in predicting outcome of hyperacute stroke before thrombolytic therapy. ASPECTS Study Group. Alberta Stroke Programme Early CT Score.

      Computed tomography (CT) must be done before thrombolytic treatment of hyperacute ischaemic stroke, but the significance of early ischaemic change on CT is unclear. We tested a quantitative CT score, the Alberta Stroke Programme Early CT Score (ASPECTS). 203 consecutive patients with ischaemic stroke were treated with intravenous alteplase within 3 h of symptom onset in two North American teaching hospitals. All pretreatment CT scans were prospectively scored. The score divides the middle-cerebral-artery territory into ten regions of interest. Primary outcomes were symptomatic intracerebral haemorrhage and 3-month functional outcome. The sensitivity and specificity of ASPECTS for the primary outcomes were calculated. Logistic regression was used to test the association between the score on ASPECTS and the primary outcomes. Ischaemic changes on the baseline CT were seen in 117 (75%) of 156 treated patients with anterior-circulation ischaemia included in the analysis (23 had ischaemia in the posterior circulation and 24 were treated outside the protocol). Baseline ASPECTS value correlated inversely with the severity of stroke on the National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale (r=-0.56, p<0.001). Baseline ASPECTS value predicted functional outcome and symptomatic intracerebral haemorrhage (p<0.001, p=0.012, respectively). The sensitivity of ASPECTS for functional outcome was 0.78 and specificity 0.96; the values for symptomatic intracerebral haemorrhage were 0.90 and 0.62. Agreement between observers for ASPECTS, with knowledge of the affected hemisphere, was good (kappa statistic 0.71-0.89). This CT score is simple and reliable and identifies stroke patients unlikely to make an independent recovery despite thrombolytic treatment.
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        Exposure to low-dose ionizing radiation from medical imaging procedures.

        The growing use of imaging procedures in the United States has raised concerns about exposure to low-dose ionizing radiation in the general population. We identified 952,420 nonelderly adults (between 18 and 64 years of age) in five health care markets across the United States between January 1, 2005, and December 31, 2007. Utilization data were used to estimate cumulative effective doses of radiation from imaging procedures and to calculate population-based rates of exposure, with annual effective doses defined as low ( 3 to 20 mSv), high (> 20 to 50 mSv), or very high (> 50 mSv). During the study period, 655,613 enrollees (68.8%) underwent at least one imaging procedure associated with radiation exposure. The mean (+/-SD) cumulative effective dose from imaging procedures was 2.4+/-6.0 mSv per enrollee per year; however, a wide distribution was noted, with a median effective dose of 0.1 mSv per enrollee per year (interquartile range, 0.0 to 1.7). Overall, moderate effective doses of radiation were incurred in 193.8 enrollees per 1000 per year, whereas high and very high doses were incurred in 18.6 and 1.9 enrollees per 1000 per year, respectively. In general, cumulative effective doses of radiation from imaging procedures increased with advancing age and were higher in women than in men. Computed tomographic and nuclear imaging accounted for 75.4% of the cumulative effective dose, with 81.8% of the total administered in outpatient settings. Imaging procedures are an important source of exposure to ionizing radiation in the United States and can result in high cumulative effective doses of radiation. 2009 Massachusetts Medical Society
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          Effect of whole-body CT during trauma resuscitation on survival: a retrospective, multicentre study.

          The number of trauma centres using whole-body CT for early assessment of primary trauma is increasing. There is no evidence to suggest that use of whole-body CT has any effect on the outcome of patients with major trauma. We therefore compared the probability of survival in patients with blunt trauma who had whole-body CT during resuscitation with those who had not. In a retrospective, multicentre study, we used the data recorded in the trauma registry of the German Trauma Society to calculate the probability of survival according to the trauma and injury severity score (TRISS), revised injury severity classification (RISC) score, and standardised mortality ratio (SMR, ratio of recorded to expected mortality) for 4621 patients with blunt trauma given whole-body or non-whole-body CT. 1494 (32%) of 4621 patients were given whole-body CT. Mean age was 42.6 years (SD 20.7), 3364 (73%) were men, and mean injury-severity score was 29.7 (13.0). SMR based on TRISS was 0.745 (95% CI 0.633-0.859) for patients given whole-body CT versus 1.023 (0.909-1.137) for those given non-whole-body CT (p<0.001). SMR based on the RISC score was 0.865 (0.774-0.956) for patients given whole-body CT versus 1.034 (0.959-1.109) for those given non-whole-body CT (p=0.017). The relative reduction in mortality based on TRISS was 25% (14-37) versus 13% (4-23) based on RISC score. Multivariate adjustment for hospital level, year of trauma, and potential centre effects confirmed that whole-body CT is an independent predictor for survival (p

            Author and article information

            Department of Biomedical Imaging, University Malaya Research Imaging Centre (UMRIC), Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
            Author notes
            Corresponding author: Raja Rizal Azman, FRCR, Department of Biomedical Imaging, University Malaya Research Imaging Centre (UMRIC), Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur 50603, Malaysia. Tel: (603) 79492091, Fax: (603) 79562253, rizalazman@
            Korean J Radiol
            Korean J Radiol
            Korean Journal of Radiology
            The Korean Society of Radiology
            March 2019
            30 January 2019
            : 20
            : 3
            : 399-404
            Copyright © 2019 The Korean Society of Radiology

            This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

            Technology, Experiment, and Physics
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