July 9th, 2010
11:17 AM ET

Heart imaging may expose patients to unneeded radiation

Some patients undergoing nuclear stress tests for cardiac imaging may be exposing themselves to unnecessary radiation, says a new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

An analysis found that nearly one  out of every 10 patients under age 65 had at least one cardiac imaging procedure over a three-year period, which exposed them to high doses of ionizing radiation, a type of carcinogen.

"Clinicians and patients must consider tradeoffs between the benefits of cardiac imaging procedures and their potential long term risks due to radiation," say the authors say in the report.

The authors calculated that the majority of the tests were done on patients between ages 55 and 64 – a group at higher risk of heart disease – but they also expressed concern about the sizable number of adults aged 35-54 who took the tests.

"Many of these younger patients may be candidates for alternative imaging modalities that do not use ionizing radiation but provide similar clinical information for informed decision making," the report says.

One of the limitations of the research was the inability to determine whether the younger recipients of cardiac imaging were at high risk.

Dr. Pamela Douglas, former president of the American Academy of Cardiology, says it’s important to remember that no one is suggesting the tests should not be offered, but rather that physicians should make sure only people who actually need the tests receive them.

"We don't want to forget the incredibly positive value these tests have had on the nation’s health,” Douglas explains. “We want to make sure we do the testing as safely as possible."

Click here for more information on high-tech heart tests from Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

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