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Answer to Question #10866 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Medical and Dental Patient Issues — Diagnostic X Ray and CT

The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:


My doctor requested a six x-ray series of my lower spine: front, laterals, extension, distention. When I went for the exam, I perceived the person responsible for performing the x rays didn't know what she was doing because instead of taking six x rays, she ended up taking 13 x rays. My second concern is that later that day I felt a burning sensation on the skin of my abdomen and I can't sleep very well due to this sensation. Today is my second day after the exam and I am still feeling this sensation on my skin.
My questions are:

  1. What is my risk of developing disease due to radiation from these 13 x rays?
  2. Can I do something to minimize that risk from now on?
  3. Is my burning sensation of my skin due to x-ray radiation?

The radiation doses received from these types of diagnostic radiographic procedures (even if some of the exposures had to be repeated) are relatively low and the chances of any resultant disease are very low. These radiation doses are also far below the levels necessary to produce any skin reactions that would be evident within hours after being irradiated. Even in situations where dose thresholds for early skin injury may have been exceeded, any symptoms would include erythema (reddening of the skin). Furthermore, since you underwent a series of x rays where the primary beam entered from the front, back, and sides, the x-ray beam would have overlapped the skin on your abdomen for only a few of the exposures. You should consider other possible causes of the burning sensations that you describe and seek medical advice if they continue to affect you.

While I can say with confidence that the radiation doses that you received were low, a more precise estimate of the actual amounts would require more information about the specific techniques and machines used for each of the exposures. The facility that performed your x rays should be able to provide such an estimate by having its medical physicist perform a dose evaluation.

I should also note that there are a number of possible reasons that additional x rays were taken, which may or may not have been the technologist's fault. While it could have been technologist error that caused the need for extra radiographs, it also could have been beyond her control. For example, the physician could have requested additional alternate positions or techniques, or there could have been patient movement or an equipment malfunction.

John C. Keklak, MS Hyg, CHP

Answer posted on 15 January 2014. The information posted on this web page is intended as general reference information only. Specific facts and circumstances may affect the applicability of concepts, materials, and information described herein. The information provided is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon in the absence of such professional advice. To the best of our knowledge, answers are correct at the time they are posted. Be advised that over time, requirements could change, new data could be made available, and Internet links could change, affecting the correctness of the answers. Answers are the professional opinions of the expert responding to each question; they do not necessarily represent the position of the Health Physics Society.