Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"Are x-rays dangerous for older people?"
My mother is 63 and needs to get x-rays done. Could this be dangerous at her age?
First, it is good that you are concerned about your mother's health and are involved in her care. All of us need advocates to help make sure that we get the best healthcare, and your efforts will go a long way to helping your mother do as well as possible, no matter what her condition may be. X-rays are performed by releasing radiation that passes through the body and onto a film on the other side. The radiation passes through most of the body easily, but it stays in the parts of the body that are more dense, such as the bones. The film on the opposite side of your body doesn't develop in the corresponding area, and so it appears white. X-rays are thus excellent for diagnosing bone problems and some other simple conditions, but are not great for many of the soft tissue problems that we would like to visualize (in which case an MRI or CT with contrast may be used). X-rays themselves use very little radiation, and pose minimal risk. CT scans should be used judiciously, however, as they are made of many x-rays. Elderly people are at decreased risk, however, as the major risk from the radiation is the potential it has to disrupt the DNA and potential lead to cancer, which occurs over long periods of time (decades), and is thus not as relevant. Please speak to your doctor about your concerns.
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