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Americans Exposed to Higher Levels of Radiation during Heart Scans, Study Says

Update Date: Dec 29, 2015 10:41 AM EST

A new study is reporting that depending on the type of heart test, many Americans tend to be exposed to more radiation than similar patients from other countries are.

The team found that specifically for myocardial perfusion imaging, which is used to detect and treat coronary artery disease, the levels of radiation that American patients are exposed to are 20 percent higher than the levels recorded in non-American patients.

This particular heart test, which is also called a nuclear stress test, is performed on about one million Americans per year. Coronary artery disease is one of the most common types of heart diseases within the U.S. it is caused by buildup of certain substances that can hinder blood flow to the heart.

The researchers wrote that the discrepancy between the radiation exposure levels in American and non-American patients is partly due to the fact that labs in America are less likely to follow the recommended guidelines for dosages. In the U.S., a maximum recommended dose for myocardial perfusion imaging is 9 millisieverts (mSv).

The researchers reported that only 24 percent of American patients received 9 mSv or less during their tests. The rate in patients outside of the U.S. was 43 percent. The researchers also reported that in 50 percent of the time within the U.S., the dose was higher than 11.6 mSv.

"When it is appropriately performed, the benefits of a nuclear heart scan far outweigh this radiation exposure, however it is still incumbent upon doctors to minimize the amount of radiation that patients receive from such testing while simultaneously ensuring a good quality heart study," senior study author Dr. Andrew Einstein of Columbia University Medical Center in New York said to FOX News via email.

Dr. Rebecca Smith-Bindman at the University of California, San Francisco, wrote in her accompanying editorial to the study:

"The right imaging tests performed at the right time can lead to earlier and more accurate diagnoses, better treatment decisions, and improved patient outcomes, and advanced imaging has had a very positive impact on patient care. Unnecessary and inappropriately performed tests harm patients by causing them discomfort and anxiety, by leading to a large number of irrelevant incidental findings, and by exposing them to ionizing radiation which can have harmful effects on their health."

The data came from the International Atomic Energy Agency Nuclear Cardiology Protocols Study that included 308 labs across 65 countries, It involved a total of 7,911 patients. In the U.S., the data included 55 labs and 1,902 patients. Data was collected from March to April in 2013.

The study was published in the journal, JAMA Internal Medicine.

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