Radiating Health with Digestive Issues?

IBD testing and radiation exposure measured

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) For people suffering from digestive disorders, medical testing and scans can become a regular practice as doctors attempt to evaluate and diagnose the nature of their problems.

A new study attempted to determine the level of radiation patients with Inflammatory Bowel disease (IBD) are being exposed to over time through such exams.

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According to the Mayo Clinic, IBD is the chronic inflammation of all or parts of the digestive tract, often causing crippling side effects. Ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease are two main forms of IBD.

The study, led by Jimmy K. Limdi, PhD, and published online (ahead of print) in July 2012 by the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, examined radiation exposure due to medical scans in these patients, and found it measuring at high levels, especially for those with Crohn’s disease.

This exposure is a concern because, as the authors report, “it is widely recognized now that protracted exposure to ionizing radiation, even at levels used for diagnostic imaging, may contribute to the risk of malignancy,” (or the unhealthy growth of tumors or cancer).

The researchers reviewed the medical files of 280 IBD patients (with an average age of 48.5 years) at The Pennine Acute Hospitals in Manchester, United Kingdom.

Researchers noted the number of times the patients had been exposed to diagnostic medical radiation, as well as the estimated doses of radiation received, starting from the time of their first diagnosis until June 2010.

Results showed that patients were on average exposed to 10.17 mSv (millisievert, a unit used to measure radiation) of radiation cumulatively over the course of their treatment.

Patients with Crohn’s disease (45.4 percent of the total sample group) had a significantly higher cumulative effective radiation exposure than patients with UC (51.4 percent of the total sample group). The average exposure over time was 16.06 mSv in Crohn’s patients, as compared to 4.89 mSv in those with UC.

What’s more, 58.3 percent of Crohn’s patients’ cumulative levels were more than 10 mSv and 18.1 percent had cumulative levels more than 25 mSv.

According to the authors, these amounts are significant and, “Clinicians must remain vigilant to the risk of cumulative radiation when evaluating these patients and consider non-ionizing alternatives such as intestinal ultrasound and MR imaging where clinically appropriate.”

The researchers do note that exposure could only be estimated and not determined exactly.

For example, the standard estimated radiation dose was used, though this could vary depending on factors like patient size and equipment used. Furthermore, there may be procedures that the subjects underwent at hospitals other than the one examined, which were not accounted for in the study. 

Potential risks of radiation exposure need to be weighed further against potential risks associated with avoiding medical scans. Future research will help doctors and patients determine this balance.

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Review Date: 
August 14, 2012
Last Updated:
August 16, 2012