How CHPs Can Reduce Ionizing Radiation Exposure and Cardiovascular Risk

May 3, 2024 AAHP Blogs

Traditionally, low doses of ionizing radiation were not linked to non-cancer diseases, which were seen as having a threshold dose for damage.

That might be changing.

Recent studies suggest an increased risk of non-cancer diseases like cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cataracts from lower radiation doses than previously considered.

The exact dose-risk relationship for doses under 0.5 gray (Gy), a unit of measurement for ionizing radiation dose absorbed by an object or a person, remains unclear. However, if future research shows no threshold for these effects, it could significantly change how we estimate health risks from low-dose radiation.

Certified Health Physicists (CHPs) will almost certainly be tasked with leading the research.

As our understanding of the impacts of low-dose radiation evolves, the responsibilities of CHPs will grow increasingly crucial. Their expertise in radiation safety could help refine current guidelines and develop new strategies to protect people from potential risks. By integrating the latest research findings, CHPs can advocate for evidence-based policies that include more stringent regulations on radiation exposure or enhanced monitoring protocols.

Their proactive approach will be vital in adapting our health and safety frameworks to meet emerging scientific insights and ensure a safer environment for future generations, especially since the possible link between ionizing radiation and the No. 1 killer of Americans could also be in play.

The Link Between Ionizing Radiation and Heart Disease

Recent studies have pointed to low-dose ionizing radiation’s potential harmful effects on heart health.

One was published in the journal Radiation Research. According to the research, even low levels of exposure to ionizing radiation, such as those from medical imaging procedures, can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases, including heart disease. The study suggests that radiation leads to oxidative stress, inflammation and changes in endothelial function, which can contribute to the development of heart disease.

There’s more. The National Institute of Health (NIH) says that studies have shown radiation therapy for chest tumors can cause both early and late heart disease, as radiation may affect the heart if it is in the treatment area. Recent research, including animal studies and noninvasive detection methods, indicates that even lower doses of ionizing radiation than previously known can impact cardiovascular health, prompting further exploration into preventing or reducing these effects.

The Role of Certified Health Physicists

CHPs are professionals trained in radiation safety and the science of radiation protection. Their expertise is crucial in various settings where radiation is used or encountered, including medical facilities, research institutions, nuclear power plants and industrial sites.

Here’s how CHPs are instrumental in mitigating radiation exposure and reducing the associated heart disease risk:

  1. Establishing Safety Programs: CHPs develop and implement comprehensive radiation safety programs tailored to specific environments. These programs include guidelines on using radiation-emitting devices, protocols for emergency response, and safety measures to minimize unnecessary exposure.
  2. Providing Training: Education and training are core to a CHP’s responsibilities. They ensure that all personnel handling radioactive materials or radiation-emitting equipment are adequately trained. This training includes proper handling techniques, protective equipment use, and understanding radiation dose limits.
  3. Conducting Inspections: Regular inspections and audits are crucial to maintaining high standards of radiation safety. CHPs inspect facilities and practices to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements and identify areas for improvement.
  4. Monitoring Radiation Levels: Monitoring radiation levels in the workplace and environment helps assess exposure risks. CHPs use sophisticated equipment to measure radiation levels, ensuring they remain below established regulatory and safety thresholds.

Practical Applications in Healthcare

In healthcare settings, the role of CHPs is particularly vital due to the direct implications for patient and worker safety.

For instance, in radiology departments where X-rays and CT scans are routinely performed, CHPs optimize procedures to ensure the radiation dose is delivered to produce a clear picture of the area being imaged. This process involves calibrating imaging equipment, training radiologists and technicians, and developing protocols that minimize patient exposure without compromising diagnostic quality.

Moreover, CHPs are involved in developing and implementing innovative technologies that reduce radiation doses. Recent advancements include software that enhances image quality from lower doses of radiation and new imaging modalities that rely on less harmful radiation types.

Impact on Public Health

The broader impact of CHPs extends beyond individual healthcare settings to public health. By ensuring proper management of radiation sources, reducing unnecessary exposures and advocating for radiation safety, CHPs contribute significantly to lowering radiation-related health risks in the community. This proactive approach to radiation safety helps prevent potential increases in heart disease rates linked to radiation exposure.

How You Can Help: Become a CHP

The increasing evidence linking low-dose ionizing radiation to heart disease highlights the indispensable role of CHPs in today’s world.

Whether in medical facilities, industrial settings or research laboratories, CHPs are on the frontline of reducing radiation exposure and safeguarding health. By implementing robust safety programs, conducting rigorous training and inspections, and continuously monitoring radiation levels, CHPs ensure that radiation use in various sectors is safe, controlled, and within the limits that protect human health.

CHPs’ efforts are crucial not only in preventing immediate radiation hazards but also in mitigating long-term health risks such as cardiovascular and heart disease. As research progresses, the role of CHPs will expand, further emphasizing the need for continuous professional development and adherence to best practices in radiation safety.

Collaboration among healthcare providers, researchers and CHPs is crucial to developing strategies that balance radiation’s benefits and risks, ensuring its safe and effective use for public health.