Benefits of CT Scans for Heart Attack Prevention Are Questionable: Study

New research suggests that while CT scans can accurately rule out whether a patient is suffering a heart attack, they may be financially inefficient and needlessly expose patients to radiation. 

In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, accompanied by an editorial, researchers found that CT scans generate large doses of radiation and do not appear to save lives or find more heart attacks than by other means. They also may have led to more tests and inappropriate treatments.

Researchers looked at about 1,000 patients with symptoms of heart or chest pain, who had no other test results that already detected a heart attack.

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Those who received a CT scan had the average length of their hospital stay reduced by 7.6 hours, which led to more patients being discharged directly from the emergency department (47% compared to 12% among those who did not receive a CT scan). However, those patients who received a CT scan underwent more testing later and were exposed to higher levels of radiation. On average, it also increased hospital bills by about $200.

This study follows a report last month by U.S. researchers that found the use of CT scans has tripled over the last 15 years. In 1996, about 52 out of every 1,000 American adults received a CT scan every year. However, by 2010, that number had risen to 149 out of 1,000.

In November 2010, the FDA recommended that the radiation therapy industry make changes to equipment and training to lessen the risk of radiation overdose for patients. The recommendations came after a year-long investigation by the FDA, which concluded that nearly all radiation exposure problems suffered by patients are due to operator error and are rarely contributed to by broken CT scanners.

CT scan procedures and other forms of radiation therapy across the country came under close scrutiny prior to the FDA recommendations after it was widely publicized that a number of patients have suffered radiation overexposure from CT Scans performed incorrectly.


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