The Joint Commission (formerly The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations) is the largest nonprofit accrediting agency in health care, and since 2002, it has sponsored the Speak Up initiative to educate patients about preventive health care and encourage them to take a more active role in their doctor visits. Earlier this year, a new phase of the Speak Up campaign focused on the risks and benefits of common medical-imaging procedures, such as X rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computed tomography (CT) scans.
X rays are a popular tool to identify many types of cancer, although they utilize radiation and are not recommended for pregnant women without precautions. Even so, the radiation doses received are relatively small. A chest X ray, for example, delivers a dose equivalent to the amount of radiation you’d naturally receive from the environment over the course of 10 days.
As the name suggests, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans utilize a combination of magnetic fields and radio waves to construct a detailed image of the body. MRIs are frequently used to assess back pain and find masses in soft organ structures. Although MRIs are generally safe enough to be used with most pregnant women and children, metal devices such as pacemakers, aneurysm clips, or artificial joints can interfere with image quality.
Computed tomography (CT) scans utilize a special X-ray machine to produce an image of a targeted “slice” of your body, allowing doctors to identify blood clots, internal bleeding, and cancer. However, CT scans tend to use higher radiation doses compared to traditional X rays, which is why it is important to work with an experienced health care provider to avoid redundant scans and unnecessary exposure.