CT Scans Not So Good For Heart Patients

By Amir Khan on July 26, 2012 1:11 PM EDT

CT Scan
A patient is receiving a CT scan for cancer treatment planning (Photo: Creative Commons)

Undergoing a CT scan if you're having chest pain is good for the hospital but no so good for the patient, according to a new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers found that while a CT scan can quickly rule out a heart attack, it comes with several drawbacks.

CT scans did cut the amount of time that patients spent in the hospital, but did not save the patients any money, according to the study. In addition, patients who underwent CT scans often underwent more, unnecessary treatment and were exposed to relatively large doses of radiation.

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"With no evidence of benefit and definite risks, routine testing in the emergency department of patients with a low-to-intermediate risk...should be avoided," Dr. Rita Redberg, a cardiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study, told HealthDay. "The question is not which test leads to faster discharge of patients from the emergency department, but whether a test is needed at all."

More than 90 percent of the 6 million people who go to the hospital with chest pain are suffering from indigestion, muscle strain or some other problem that is not heart disease. And while a CT scan can rule out a heart attack quickly, it is becoming overused, according to the study.

Between 1996 and 2010, the rate of CT scans increased from 52 per 1,000 patients to 149 per 1,000 patients. The researchers said this increase exposes more people to unnecessary radiation.

The average person experiences 2.4 millisieverts, or units, of radiation annually, which is not considered to be dangerous. CT scans typically emit up to 7 millisieverts of radiation, compared to .01 from an X-ray. Between 50 and 100 millisieverts increase your risk for cancer.

"Exposures of 10 millisieverts have been projected to lead to 1 death from cancer per 2,000 persons," Redberg told HealthDay. "Equally alarming, the testing may lead to an increased risk of breast cancer among these patients, many of whom are middle-aged women."

The bills of a patient who undergoes a CT scan comes out to approximately $4,289,  compared to $4,060 for patients who did not undergo a scan, despite the fact that they spent 7 hours longer in the hospital. The suggests that patients who undergo the CT scan are being overtreated, Dr. W. Douglas Weaver, a former American College of Cardiology president, told HealthDay.

"If you look more, you'll find more, and the more you'll do."

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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