Introduction: Medical imaging now accounts for most of the US population’s exposure to ionizing radiation. A substantial proportion of this medical imaging is ordered in the emergency setting. We aim to provide a general overview of radiation dose from medical imaging with a focus on computed tomography, as well as a literature review of recent efforts to decrease unnecessary radiation exposure to patients in the emergency department setting.
Methods: We conducted a literature review through calendar year 2010 for all published articles pertaining to the emergency department and radiation exposure.
Results: The benefits of imaging usually outweigh the risks of eventual radiation-induced cancer in most clinical scenarios encountered by emergency physicians. However, our literature review identified3 specific clinical situations in the general adult population in which the lifetime risks of cancer may outweigh the benefits to the patient: rule out pulmonary embolism, flank pain, and recurrent abdominal pain in inflammatory bowel disease. For these specific clinical scenarios, a physician-patient discussion about such risks and benefits may be warranted.
Conclusion: Emergency physicians, now at the front line of patients’ exposure to ionizing radiation, should have a general understanding of the magnitude of radiation dose from advanced medical imaging procedures and their associated risks. Future areas of research should include the development of protocols and guidelines that limit unnecessary patient radiation exposure. [West J Emerg Med. 2012;13(2):202–210.]