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Medical Radiation: More Dangerous Than You Think

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examining an Xray

Odds are, if you have seen a cardiologist for a heart concern, you’ve had some diagnostic testing. It may have been a cardiac catheterization, an echocardiogram, an electrocardiogram (EKG), a coronary calcium scan, a radionuclide stress test, a coronary angiography, or a cardiac MRI. 

While these tests may provide valuable information, some also contain a hidden danger: radiation. Not only does medical radiation increase the odds of cancer, but it also damages all the tissue it encounters including blood vessels, the brain and nerves, and the heart muscle. The reality is that some medical tests cause the same problems you are testing for and hoping to avoid. 

Understanding radiation

Radiation is energy that travels through space as invisible particles or waves. Each day we are exposed to radiation naturally through our environment. Radiation is found in our air, water, soil, and even in us. 

Radiation comes from man-made objects such as radio waves, microwaves, and cell phones. In addition, many medical imaging tests use radiation, such as MRIs, ultrasounds, x-rays, CT scans, and PET scans. The higher the energy of radiation, the more potential it has to cause harm to the human body. 

There are two forms of radiation: 

  • Non-ionizing radiation

Non-ionizing radiation comes from UV light, infrared rays, microwaves, and radio frequency. It has long wavelengths and low-frequency energy. Because of its low frequency, it does not have enough energy to displace electrons from atoms or molecules. Therefore, as a general rule, it’s considered the safer of the two forms of radiation. 

  • Ionizing radiation 

Unlike non-ionizing radiation, ionizing radiation is high-energy radiation with enough energy to break molecular bonds and remove electrons from atoms or molecules. This type of dangerous radiation produces free radicals and can damage tissues and DNA. 

Radiation: it all adds up 

Most people know that radiation is not suitable for the body. However, when inquiring with their doctor before a radiological procedure, many are reassured that the dose is so low that it won’t cause an issue. A typical medical response is: “You’re exposed to more radiation flying in an airplane.” 

While this may be true, the impacts of radiation are cumulative. This means that radiation exposure from many different sources adds up over a lifetime. Even small amounts of radiation exposure may damage DNA. 

Multiple studies have demonstrated that repeated exposure to dangerous radiation increases the risk of cancer. No amount of radiation has ever been deemed completely safe. However, the American College of Radiology has set the lifetime exposure limit for radiation at 100 millisieverts (mSv). 

Unfortunately, the number of diagnostic tests performed in the United States is rising. In fact, studies show that the use of ionizing radiation more than doubled in just 25 years. According to research, America performs more CT scans and MRIs than other advanced countries and with little return on investment. 

Heart tests and medical radiation 

Some cardiac imaging tests emit high doses of dangerous radiation, while others do not. A 2010 study of nearly one million people found that one out of every ten adults was exposed to radiation through a cardiac imaging procedure during the three-year study. 

A 2011 study concluded that radiation in heart procedures is tied to cancer risk. This five-year study of approximately 83,000 Canadians found that for every additional 10 mSv in radiation received, the risk of developing cancer rose by 3 percent. 

So which cardiac tests use ionizing radiation? Listed below are the tests that use radiation, ranked from the highest radiation to the lowest. 

Nuclear cardiac stress test

A nuclear cardiac stress test is used to determine the extent of coronary artery disease and the risk for significant blockages. This procedure injects radioactive material called a tracer into the bloodstream. Then, an imaging machine takes pictures of blood flow to the heart. 

There are two different kinds of nuclear stress tests, and both involve a significant amount of radiation. For example, a dual isotope MPI stress test emits 25 mSv, equal to 1250 chest x-rays! 

(We NEVER recommend this test at Natural Heart Doctor. If you need a stress test with imaging, choose a stress echocardiogram instead. This can be done one a treadmill or with an IV heart stimulant called dobutamine.)

Coronary CT angiography

A coronary CT angiography (CCTA) is a test that produces images of the arteries in the heart to determine if there are abnormalities in blood flow to the heart. Using a chemical dye injected into the veins, a CCTA can visualize blockages in the coronary arteries that surround the heart. A coronary CT angiography exposes an individual to between 3 and 12 mSv radiation. 

Chest computed tomography (CT)

 

A chest CT is a commonly used diagnostic procedure that utilizes special x-ray equipment to take pictures of the heart and surrounding organs. This test is sometimes ordered for individuals experiencing chest pain or shortness of breath so that doctors can determine if the problem stems from the heart or the lungs. A chest CT exposes an individual to approximately 7-10 mSv radiation. 

Cardiac catheterization 

A cardiac catheterization, also called a cardiac cath or coronary angiogram, is a procedure that measures the pressure and blood flow around the heart. During this procedure, a small tube called a catheter is inserted into a blood vessel and threaded into the heart. Individuals are exposed to dangerous radiation either through fluoroscopy or cine angiography. A cardiac cath exposes an individual to approximately 8-10 mSv radiation. 

Coronary calcium scan

Calcified arterial plaques can be seen with a specialized x-ray device called a coronary CT scan. A coronary calcium scan helps to detect the amount or level of calcium deposits in the heart’s arteries, which can help determine the severity of atherosclerosis. A coronary CT calcium scan exposes an individual to approximately 1-2 mSv radiation. A coronary CT angiogram involves more radiation, between 3-14 mSv. (Natural Heart Doctor never recommends this test).

Chest x-ray

Physicians sometimes order chest x-rays to get a primary picture of the heart. Chest x-rays can detect an enlarged heart, which may indicate heart failure. It may also identify pericarditis. A chest x-ray exposes an individual to approximately 0.1- 0.25 mSv radiation. 

The safest heart imaging tests include an echocardiogram, which emits virtually no radiation, or an MRI (avoid gadolinium contrast when possible).

Dangers of radiation beyond cancer

Despite evidence of radiation-induced cancer, most people are unaware of the dangers of radiation from medical imaging. Moreover, even those aware of the risks often believe that cancer is the problematic result of too much radiation. And while it’s true that radiation from medical imaging is carcinogenic, the risks extend far beyond cancer.

Radiation damages cells, including those in the heart. Individuals who have undergone radiation due to cancer often suffer from radiation-induced cardiovascular disease. Individuals with extensive radiation exposure may suffer from multiple heart conditions, including: 

  • Coronary artery disease
  • Valvular disease
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Pericardial disease
  • Electrical abnormalities and rhythm disturbances

How to minimize radiation damage

Some radiation can’t be avoided, such as in the atmosphere around us. However, medical imaging that includes radiation should be carefully considered. Doctors and patients should work together to decide if the test results’ benefits will outweigh the procedure’s risks. Sadly, many doctors underestimate the radiological risks associated with some tests.

If your doctor recommends a heart test, consider asking the following questions: 

  1. Will the outcome of the test change our treatment strategy? If the test results won’t alter the recommended treatment, radiation exposure should be avoided. Example: Will you start statins and aspirin if you have coronary calcium? Will you have a stress test or angiogram, even though you don’t have symptoms (bad idea)?
  1. Is there another effective test that doesn’t use dangerous radiation? For example, an ultrasound can often provide similar information as an x-ray.
  1. Can a lower dose of radiation be used? 

Supplements for before and after a radiation exposure

Natural Heart Doctor recommends the following protocol for before and after a radiation-based procedure.

  1. Daily Defense– This functional food protein shake mix is loaded with vitamins, mineral, and antioxidants to support radiation induced damaged. Dosage: 2 scoops per day for 7 days before and 7 days after surgery.
  2. SuperFood– This organic powder is 50% spirulina, 50% chlorella. Studies in animals show a protect effects of spirulina against radiation damage. Dosage: 1 tablespoon in water for 7 days before and 7 days after surgery.
  3. Berbe– Helps prevent radiation damage according to this animal study and this human study. Dosage: 2 caps per day for 7 days before and 7 days after surgery.

Next steps

The overuse of medical testing in the developed world is a huge problem. While there is a time and a place for diagnostic medical tests, especially during an emergency, most are unwarranted and come with risks.

In short, there is no reason for a coronary calcium scan. Assume you have coronary artery calcification. Now what are you going to do?

A skilled doctor can obtain many answers to cardiac problems from blood/urine tests alone. Advanced testing found here can tell a story of the heart that may provide more solutions than an actual 3D image. 

If your cardiologist has recommended imaging that exposes you to radiation, consider a free 20-minute consultation with one of our experienced Natural Heart Doctor health coaches or one of our physicians. Our skilled providers will listen to your health concerns and offer alternative suggestions that don’t increase your risk of future health problems. 

Eat well, Live well, Think well

Medical Review: Lauren Lattanza 2022

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He heals the body, instead of just treating the symptoms!

With his professional qualifications as a certified family nurse practitioner, a doctor of chiropractic, and a fellow of the International Academy of Medical Acupuncture, Dr. Smigiel offers patients comprehensive care from a broad perspective of conventional and alternative medicine. He also has extensive experience in functional rehabilitation and chronic pain management.

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About Dr. James Kneller, M.D., Ph.D., FHRS

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Dr. James Kneller is one of the nation’s leading heart rhythm specialists. Dr. Kneller is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) in Clinical Cardiac Electrophysiology, Cardiovascular Disease, and Internal Medicine.

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About Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD, FACC

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As a Naturopathic Physician, I am trained to treat the whole person and get to the root cause of disease.

I went to Arizona State University where I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a depth in physiology and minor in Spanish. After my undergraduate degree I was working on prerequisite classes towards medical school, which is when I came to learn that my values identified best with the principles of naturopathic medicine. I knew that I wanted to help patients identify the causes of disease and be able to offer treatments which would improve their health rather than simply treating symptoms.

I dedicated the next 4 years to the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, Arizona where I attained my Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine. I served as Class President all 4 years, Board of Trustees – Student Trustee, spoke as the Club President for our branch of Toastmasters, and was voted by my peers and attending physicians to earn the Outstanding Leadership Award for the Class of 2020. Throughout medical school I took it upon myself to work alongside MDs, DOs, chiropractors, and functional medicine practitioners in addition to naturopathic physicians.

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About Dr. Jack Wolfson DO, FACC

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Dr. Jack Wolfson is a board-certified cardiologist, Amazon best-selling author, husband, father, and the nation’s #1 Natural Heart Doctor.

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Dr. Wolfson and his wife Heather have four children and are committed to making the world a better place to live. They provide for those in need (including animals) and support natural health causes through their philanthropic efforts.

Chiropractic

Our chiropractor is an expert at adjustments and holistic chiropractic care and works closely in conjunction with the other health care experts at Natural Heart Doctor.

Call (480) 535-6844 for details and scheduling.

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We use specially formulated natural vitamins and minerals that are injected into a vein to prevent or treat dehydration. Ideal for people in Arizona.

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Stimulate your body’s natural healing abilities and promote physical and emotional well-being with acupuncture at Natural Heart Doctor.

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Health Coaching

Our health coaches use evidence based skillful conversation, clinical interventions, and strategies to engage you actively and safely in health behavior changes.

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We use the most advanced testing in the world to assess heart health and to identify the root cause of your health issues.

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Office Visits

Schedule an office visit with one of our cardiologists, holistic physicians, chiropractor, or health coaches.

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Frequently Asked Questions

I’d like to receive an online second opinion from Natural Heart Doctor. What do I do next?

You can initiate a second opinion online through our website at any time. To begin, select the team member you’d like to speak with and open an account.

Click here for cardiologist Dr. Jack Wolfson.

Naturopathic Medical Doctor Dr. Lauren Lattanza. Get details.

Naturopathic Medical Doctor Dr. Tonia Rainier. Get details.

Click here for  Natural Heart Doctor Health Coach.

Alternatively, you can email health@naturalheartdoctor.com. A member of our care team will help guide you through the process of starting a second opinion.

What is the cost of a Natural Heart Doctor Online Second Opinion?

The cost for most second opinions varies by team member. This fee includes information collection, a phone or video consultation, a second opinion from a Natural Heart Doctor specialist and guidance throughout the process from your personal Care Team at Natural Heart Doctor.

Cardiologist Dr. Jack Wolfson’s Second Opinion Fee is $1500.

Holistic Physician’s Dr. Lauren Lattanza’s Second Opinion Fee is $250.

Naturopathic Physician Dr. Tonia Rainier’s Second Opinion Fee is $250.

Note: We apply the Online Second Opinion Call fee as a credit to any future consultations with Natural Heart Doctor, should you choose them.

Will my insurance cover the cost of a Natural Heart Doctor Online Second Opinion?

Most likely, no. Most health plans do not cover online second opinions or consultations. You are responsible for the cost of our second opinion. Natural Heart Doctor cannot file a claim with your insurance carrier, nor can we provide a procedure (CPT) code for this service.

What is the timeline to receive an online second opinion?

We do our best to schedule your second opinion as quickly as possible. Typically, it takes 5 to 7 business days after your information has been collected to receive your phone or video online second opinion.

What information do you need in advance of our call?

Our office will send you a short questionnaire to complete and return. We DO NOT need your complete medical records.

How many questions can I ask the expert during our call?

You may ask a maximum of five questions. This is to ensure that the expert has sufficient time to devote to each question. All questions must be finalized before your online meeting.

What should I expect to receive once my second opinion is complete?

You will receive a summary of our discussion along with our second opinion. The second opinion will be in written form. After you have reviewed the second opinion, a Natural Heart Doctor clinician will follow up with you by phone to address general medical questions about the information provided in the second opinion.

What if I have follow-up questions for the expert after I have reviewed my second opinion?

If you have a clarifying question about an expert’s response to one of the questions in your second opinion, and the Natural Heart Doctor clinician is unable to address it, then you may request a follow up session for an additional fee. 

Is my medical and payment information secure?

Natural Heart Doctor is strongly committed to protecting the privacy and security of all our patients. Our website meets all federal requirements for protecting personal health information under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). All financial transactions are processed by Natural Heart Doctor securely using industry standard payment processing tools.

I would rather visit Natural Heart Doctor for an in-person appointment. What should I do next?

If you would prefer an in-person appointment at Natural Heart Doctor instead of an online second opinion, please call (480) 535-6844 for details and scheduling.

Can I schedule a follow up appointment with the specialist who provided my online second opinion?

Yes, we’re happy to help you on an extended basis. Our clinician can discuss options with you when presenting our second opinion summary.