Is Medical Imaging Dangerous?

November 10, 2018 – 3 min read

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Every medical procedure or treatment has its risks. Whether the risk is as insignificant as nausea or drowsiness or as serious as the potential for allergic reaction or infection, no medical procedure from getting your annual flu vaccine to a heart replacement surgery has the potential for causing safety concerns. So, based on this philosophy, yes, medical imaging can have risks. However, the medical community, as a whole, practices the safest techniques and continually evaluates the risk versus the benefits to recommend the best options for patients. And, generally speaking, medical imaging is very low on the scale of harmful or dangerous medical procedures.

To ensure that you are fully informed of all of the risks associated with your medical procedures, we invite you to join us in a discussion of the potential dangers of medical imaging tests.

X-ray and CT scan

X-ray and computed tomography (CT) scan machines use radiation that is passed through and absorbed by the body at different rates by different parts of the body. These differences in the radiation’s ability to pass through the tissue are what produces an image. Your body is exposed to radiation for a fraction of a second and the amount of radiation in a typical x-ray is equivalent to a few days’ worth of natural radiation that you are exposed to in the environment. Being exposed to the radiation does pose a risk of cancer, however, it is less than a one in one million cancer.

Some x-rays will require the use of a contrast agent to help highlight specific areas of the body. Barium may be either swallowed or given as an enema, or both. Iodine may be injected into a blood vessel to highlight the heart, blood vessel, kidneys, or bladder. When contrast is used, it poses a risk for discomfort and allergic reaction. Barium can cause nausea and iodine can cause anaphylaxis in those who are allergic to iodine or shellfish. Those who have known kidney issues should inform their doctor before using contrast dyes.

MRI scan

MRI machines use giant magnets to create a strong magnetic field to produce detailed images of all of the body’s internal structures. This process is painless and safe for most patients. However, for those with any metal inside the body, alternatives to MRI should be used. Metal artificial joints may cause significant image distortion and other smaller metal — pacemakers, bone plates, surgical clips, or bullet fragments — can shift in the presence of the magnetic field and cause injury to the patient.

Patients who suffer from claustrophobia may suffer extreme anxiety and discomfort inside a closed MRI tube. The procedure itself is safe for the claustrophobic patient, but the risk of a panic attack may limit the patient’s ability to tolerate the procedure. If available, an open MRI machine offers these patients a more tolerable MRI option.


Ultrasound uses sound waves transmitted through the skin to create images. Ultrasound is the safest known medical imaging modality and can be used by nearly every patient with little to no risk. Ultrasound is safe for even unborn fetuses and those who cannot use other modalities.

Generally, most medical imaging modalities are safe. There are specific situations where certain patients should not use different modalities, but the risk versus benefit should be evaluated before discounting the procedure. For those at risk of being harmed by each modality, the option of another imaging technique should be evaluated. For all of your medical imaging needs, the team at Touchstone Imaging Center is proud to offer a variety of imaging options to suit your needs. For more information or to schedule your imaging appointment, contact us today!