Beware of 'Medical Imaging' It's Over-Prescribed, Very Expensive and Dangerous to Your Health

No matter what your health complaint is, if you go see your doctor you might end up undergoing some kind of high tech imaging procedure such as cardiac angiography, CT (computed tomography) or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). According to a study published last fall in the journal Health Affairs, medical imaging has soared over the last few years across all types of these tests, doubling the annual medical cost per patient. In fact, the study confirmed previous reports that patients are far-too-often being subjected to unnecessary imaging.

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At least, most of these tests are minimally invasive and thoroughly studied to make sure they carry few risks so they are safe, right? Unfortunately, the answer is no. New reports of lasting, health-harming effects from some imaging tests are accumulating. A case in point: a new study just published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society Nephrology (CJASN) warns that seemingly minor and reversible kidney damage injury which can arise after undergoing certain common medical imaging procedures is a serious health threat. The reason? It is linked to a greatly increased risk of stroke, heart attack and death.

University of Vermont physician Richard Solomon, MD, and his colleagues investigated 294 patients with kidney disease who were exposed to contrast agents during cardiac angiography. Patients in this study, dubbed the CARE (Cardiac Angiography in REnally Impaired Patients) trial, were randomly divided with half receiving the contrast agent iopamidol and the other receiving the contrast agent iodixanol.

Many medical imaging techniques, including cardiac angiography and CT scans, often involve the use of contrast agents, substances that contain iodine (like iopamidol and iodixanol) and barium, because they enhance the contrast between body structures or fluids within the body. This allows blood vessels and changes in tissues to be more clearly visualized.

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August 22, 2009