When a child is hurt or sick, doctors often use computed tomography (CT) scans or X-rays to see inside the body. While these tests are useful and allow doctors to make complex medical diagnoses, they can also expose children to radiation. Since children’s bodies are still developing, too much exposure can put them at risk for radiation-related health problems.
“Children are not little adults,” says Washington University physician Robert McKinstry, MD, PhD, radiologist-in-chief at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “They’re more sensitive to radiation than adults, and specific expertise is required for radiologists to provide an accurate diagnosis for a child.”
The Joe Buck Imaging Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital is dedicated to reducing radiation exposure for pediatric patients who receive imaging services. To accomplish this, St. Louis Children’s Hospital follows guidelines created by the Alliance for Radiation Safety in Pediatric Imaging to determine appropriate “child-size” radiation doses for CT.
“All of our imaging services have child-size protocols to ensure we are giving the lowest dose of radiation possible,” says Elissa Almeter, radiology technologist and supervising medical imaging technologist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “We also have a dose reduction team that is always looking or ways to reduce radiation.”
Understand the Difference
In addition to reducing radiation doses for imaging procedures, St. Louis Children’s Hospital is leading the way in developing radiation-free alternatives to CT scans for many common conditions.
There are several different tools doctors use to see inside the human body:
- X-ray imaging sends ionized radiation through the body. Dense structures in the body (such as bones) block these particles and appear white in the final image.
- A CT scanner uses X-rays to take cross-section pictures of the inside of the body in “slices.”
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses powerful magnets and radio waves to create images.
- Ultrasound uses no ionizing radiation but rather a device called a transducer to send out sound waves that bounce off the organs and tissues and are captured as images. These sound waves are completely harmless.
MRI and ultrasound are safer alternatives to X-rays and CT scans, but are not always the most appropriate tools. St. Louis Children’s Hospital has protocols in place to ensure doctors always choose the imaging procedure that uses the least amount of radiation.
“The best way to reduce exposure is not to use radiation at all,” says Dr. McKinstry. “We use MRI or ultrasound instead of a CT scan whenever we can.”
Just for Kids
Diagnostic imaging can be a stressful experience for children. That’s why every aspect of care at The Joe Buck Imaging Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital is designed to meet kids’ physical and emotional needs. The specially trained, board-certified pediatric radiologists and radiology technologists are experts at keeping kids as calm and comfortable as possible during the process.
“All of our technologists go through a training period,” Almeter says. “They learn about our equipment, our child-size protocols and how to work with children.”
Children undergoing diagnostic imaging at Children’s Hospital can play Xbox® or enjoy the aquarium in the waiting room. Our MRI machine is specially equipped with a media system that allows kids to relax and enjoy a movie or listen to their favorite tunes while scanning is taking place.
To schedule an appointment at The Joe Buck Imaging Center, call 314.454.KIDS (5437) or 800.678.KIDS.