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Oregon Family Magazine

Broken? Diagnosing Summertime Breaks and Bumps

07/02/2014 ● By Sandy Kauten
Summer brings adventures and endless fun for kids — and sometimes, more than its share of breaks and bumps to the head. Whether it’s a possible broken arm from the monkey bars, or perhaps a concussion from an over enthusiastic ball game, it’s likely your physician will consider a scan of some sort to diagnosis the damage. We asked Dr. Erik Young….

What kind of scans involve radiation and what don't?

There are four main kinds of medical scans in common use today: X-rays, CT scans, MRIs and ultrasound. X-rays and CT scans – sometimes called “CAT scans” – use small amounts of radiation to form an image. MRIs use magnetic fields and ultrasound uses sound waves; neither of these involves radiation.

Tell us about x-rays

X-rays are the most common kind of imaging process used with children. Your doctor may want an x-ray taken to check a possible broken ankle, for example, or a chest x-ray to check the lungs for pneumonia.

The amount of ionizing radiation involved in a single x-ray is very tiny. You and your child will be exposed to about the same small amount of radiation – from natural cosmic rays – while flying on a commercial airliner from Eugene to Denver as from a single x-ray.

Let's move on to CT scans. Do they involve more exposure?

They do. A CT scan is made up of many separate x-ray images, which are then combined by a computer to make a three-dimensional image. Depending on the part of your body being scanned, you get from 100 to several hundred times as much radiation exposure from a CT scan as from a regular x-ray.

As a result, physicians use CT scans far less frequently for any patients, but especially for children.

It's still not a huge amount. A low amount of radiation occurs naturally on Earth from a variety of sources. A single CT scan involves about as much radiation as we are exposed to naturally in the course of two or three years while living in Eugene.

Sometimes the benefits from a scan clearly outweigh the slight risk of radiation exposure. We may use a CT scan, for example, to see whether a child with abdominal pain has acute appendicitis requiring immediate surgery, or to diagnose bleeding in the brain, another urgent condition. In those cases a CT scan may show that surgery – which has its own risks – isn't necessary. At Oregon Imaging, we use equipment that can reduce exposure by about 70%.  

So it's a matter of balancing risks

Exactly. There are risks involved with anything. Sometimes the risk of not having a scan is far greater than any conceivable risk from radiation. The important thing is that parents and guardians of children have a right to know exactly what is happening when a child has a scan of any kind. If you're not told, you should ask.

 – Dr. Erik Young is a radiologist at Oregon Imaging Centers, which provides a full range of imaging services, including MRIs, low-dose CT, PET/CT, ultrasound, digital x-ray and fluoroscopy and digital mammography. He is one of 16 specialized radiologists providing services from OIC locations at University District and RiverBend Pavilion.