X-rays are a valuable method of diagnosing or identifying issues as a result of injury or illness. However, these imaging scans expose people to a small dose of ionizing radiation. While this small amount of exposure is safe once in a while, prolonged subjection to ionizing radiation can cause health problems. For many, this raises questions about the dangers of having multiple X-ray procedures. Below, we will discuss how many X-rays are safe to have in one year. 

What is an X-ray?

An X-ray is a form of radiant energy that produces ionization radiation. These beams can go through the body, which makes it possible to capture images of the body’s internal structures. The images can be printed on special film or viewed via a computer. X-rays are useful when doctors need to make a diagnosis and can also serve as a guide in certain procedures such as insertion of tubes or devices inside the body.

Radiation Exposure from X-rays

Most people are aware that X-rays do subject patients to a small amount of ionizing radiation. However, what you may not know is that most of us are exposed to small amounts of radiation on a daily basis as a result of anything from airports to even food. The amount of radiation from an X-ray differs depending on the area being exposed and how involved the procedure. 

How many X-rays are safe in a year?

While there’s no magic number of how many X-rays are safe in each year, the American College of Radiology recommends limiting lifetime diagnostic radiation exposure to 100 mSv, which is the equivalent to about 10,000 chest X-rays, but only 25 chest CT scans. Since different X-ray procedures emit different amounts of radiation exposure, it’s not so much the number of imaging exams as it is the type of scan being done and how much radiation it releases. If you are undergoing more procedures that use radiation, you should speak with your doctor or radiologist about the risks associated with common X-ray procedures. 

Here are a few procedures that utilize X-rays and the amount of radiation associated with each. You will find that there is quite a difference from procedure to procedure. To provide some context, the average natural background radiation in the United States is 3.7 mSv per year:

  • Chest X-ray: A simple chest x-ray exposes a person to an average of 0.01 mSv, which is the equivalent to 2.4 days of natural background radiation
  • Spine X-ray: 1.5 mSv or 6 months of background radiation 
  • Dental X-ray: 0.005 mSv or 1 day of background radiation
  • CT chest: 4 to 7 mSv or 1-2 years of background radiation
  • CT abdomen: 10 mSv or about 3 years of background radiation 
  • Coronary Computed Tomography Angiography (CTA): 12 mSv or 4 years of background radiation

When it comes to the risk of ionizing radiation, the benefits of X-ray technology overwhelmingly outweigh the dangers of undetected illness, injury, or ailments. If you are scheduled to undergo ongoing procedures involving X-rays, speak with your doctor about any potential dangers of X-rays and share your concerns. At Rosetta Radiology offers many different procedures that include X-ray technology. Contact us to get in touch with board-certified radiologists who will be with you every step of the way to discuss any concerns or questions you may have.